In her article, A Defense of Abortion, Judith Jarvis Thomson argues that in some though not all cases, women have a right to abortion due to property rights in regards to their body, and the undue burden against these rights that would be placed on women if they are to be made responsible for any and all pregnancies. Thomson uses a variety of sometimes strange analogies to make her point that even if we give in to the argument that a fetus is a person, and thus has a right to life, this right to life does not necessarily ensure a right to sustain that life by using another person’s property, in this case the mother’s body, against her will.
Thomson first asks us to consider the following case. You wake up and find yourself in a hospital bed hooked up to a famous violinist. It is then explained to you that you’ve been kidnapped by the Society of Music Lovers because you happen to be the only person whose blood type is compatible with the violinist’s, who is suffering from a kidney disease, and will die unless you remain plugged into him for nine months. Keeping in mind that both you and the violinist are innocent parties, and that both you and the violinist will walk out of the hospital alive and unharmed when the nine months are up, are you morally obligated to remain connected to the violinist, who in the case of pregnancy would be the fetus? First we must consider the given analogy and its relativity to the primary scenario, being the morality of abortion. There are no other cases quite like pregnancy, where one’s ability to sustain life is directly dependent on the use of another’s body. This is why Thomson must create the violinist analogy. There are surely many similarities between the case of the violinist and the case of the fetus. As stated before, both parties, the fetus/violinist and the mother/donor are innocent. The cause of their connection is based on the actions of a third party, in this case the Society of Music Lovers. The fact that the donor was kidnapped presents a distinguishing factor, allowing the analogy to be applied in cases such as pregnancy because of rape, where it is clear that the mother did not consent in any way to becoming pregnant. There are also dissimilarities. The kidnapping itself has not traumatized the donor, while in the case of a young girl being raped and becoming pregnant, the rape itself is very traumatic. However, Thomson discounts this by saying that if those who oppose abortion based on the grounds that a person’s right to life is more important than a mother’s property right to her body, make an exception in the case of rape, they are saying that those who come into existence because of rape have less of a right to life than others, which sounds somehow wrong. Furthermore, many who oppose abortion on this ground do not make an exception for rape. Thus, the primary question remains, is it morally permissible to disconnect yourself from a person, even if doing so will kill them?
Thomson then takes the violinist scenario a step further, asking us to imagine that it turns out that supporting the violinist is putting additional strain on you, and if you continue to remain plugged into him, you will die. Some would say that it is still impermissible, because unplugging yourself would be directly killing the innocent violinist which is murder, and always wrong. Thomson vehemently denies that you are obligated to sacrifice your own life in order to save the violinist, saying that in this case “if anything in the world is true, it is that you do not commit murder, you do not do what is impermissible, if you reach around to your back and unplug yourself from that violinist to save your life.” (Vaughn, 175)
Many of Thomson’s other analogies deal with the concept of a woman’s property rights to her body making a case for abortion being permissible. She gives the analogy of a young boy being given a box of chocolates, and eating them before...