Judith Jarvis Thomson: A Defense of Abortion – CRITICAL EXPOSITION The goal of Judith Jarvis Thomson in her defense of abortion is to sway the ideas of those who are against abortion by challenging the arguments they give for thinking so. She begins by stating a premise. “For the sake of the argument” a human embryo is a person. This premise is one of the arguments most opponents of abortion use, but as she points out, isn’t much of an argument at all.
These people spend a lot of their time dwelling on the fact that the fetus is a person and hardly any time explaining how the fetus being a person has anything to with abortion being impermissible. In the same breath, she states that those who agree with abortion spend a lot of their time saying the fetus is in fact not a person. Either way, no argument is really formed. No reasons are given. For sake of challenging an actual argument, she is disregarding this issue. With this premise out of the way, she addresses the basic argument the pro-choice campaign believes. “Every person has a right to life.
So the fetus has a right to life. No doubt the mother has a right to decide what shall happen in and to her body; everyone would grant that. But surely a person’s right to life is stronger and more stringent than the mother’s right to decide what happens in and to her body, and so outweighs it. So the fetus may not be killed; an abortion may not be performed. ” The remainder of her paper is a series of analogies meant to challenge the basic argument mention above. When looking at the analogies separately, they are in no way related to the abortion topic, but the conclusions drawn from each can be applied.
Because these examples aren’t directly related to the debate, our emotions won’t necessarily be involved and we can clearly think about what is the “right” thing to do for each specific scenario. To begin, we’re given the following analogy. You have been kidnapped. When you wake up, you find yourself connected to a famous violinist who needs your kidney. You are the only one who can save him, and in order to do so you must stay connected to him for 9 months. Most would agree “unplugging” yourself from this dying violinist would be wrong, but you didn’t consent to helping this man so you don’t necessarily hold an obligation to save him.
This analogy is laid in comparison to pregnancy due to rape with the intention to challenge the basic argument opponents of abortion hold. The woman doesn’t ask to be raped, and therefore doesn’t ask for the child. There is no consent involved whatsoever. Therefore, the baby’s right to life isn’t enough to obligate the mother to save it. The conclusion drawn from this analogy is that the violinist’s right to life does not give the violinist a right to your body; similarly, the baby’s right to the life doesn’t give the baby a right to your body.
This proves the basic argument wrong because the child’s right to life doesn’t outweigh the mother’s. The next analogy is given to back up a situation where there is a risk on the mother’s life if she is to carry the baby to term. This analogy is challenging the more extreme view held by those in opposition to abortion. This view finds abortion “impermissible even to save the mother’s life. ” Imagine a woman has become pregnant and in the same day learns of a newly developed heart disease that will kill her if she carries her baby to term. The baby has a right to life, but so does the woman.
Thomson brings up the argument most familiar. “Performing the abortion would be directly killing the child, whereas doing nothing would not be killing the mother, but letting her die. ” The conclusion that is drawn from this scenario is that your own right to life gives you the moral right to “unplug” yourself if your life is threatened. Equally, if there is a risk of the mother dying, she has a right to end the pregnancy in order to save herself. It cannot be considered murder to kill someone in order to save yourself. This analogy shows the extreme view to be false.
To further weaken the extreme view, Thomson addresses the argument against third parties. She believes that, just a like a woman having the right to choose to save her life, a third party should be able to choose if he/she want to assist. The next issue is, in Thomson’s opinion, the most important question in the abortion debate; that is, what exactly does a right to life bring about? The premise that “everyone has a right to life, so the unborn person has a right to life” suggests that the right to life is “unproblematic,” or straight-forward.
We know that isn’t true. Thomson gives an analogy involving Henry Fonda. You are sick and dying and the touch of Henry Fonda’s hand will heal you. Even if his touch with save your life, you have no right to be “given the touch of Henry Fonda’s cool hand. ” A stricter view sees the right to life as more of a right to not be killed by anybody. Here too troubles arise. In the case of the violinist, if we are to “refrain from killing the violinist,” then we must basically allow him to kill you. This contradicts the stricter view.
The conclusion Thomson draws from this analogy is “that having a right to life does not guarantee having either a right to be given the use of or a right to be allowed continued use of another person’s body—even if one needs it for life itself. ” This argument again proves the basic argument wrong. The right to life isn’t as clear of an argument as I’m sure opponents of abortion would like it to be or believe it is. Similarly, the following analogy brings up another problem with the right to life argument. Just because something ought to happen a certain way doesn’t necessarily create a right to it.
Thomson uses the following analogy to discuss this issue. Two brothers are given a box of chocolates and one brother refuses to give any to the other brother. It would be unfair for the one brother to not give the other his share of the chocolates. The refusal to share is indecent and unjust. Thomson states “to deprive someone of what he has a right to is to treat him unjustly. ” The brothers and the chocolate show this, but on the contrary if in the violinist scenario, you learn that instead of 9 months, you are to spend 9 years plugged into him, you aren’t being unjust because you gave him no right to your kidneys; you were kidnapped.
When looking at the story of the Good Samaritan, it seems right that we all should be Minimally Decent Samaritans, but even then the rights of one person don’t generate a requirement of a personal sacrifice or obligation. When applying this logic to the violinist, if you were only required to be attached to him for an hour, you would be considered self-centered and horrible if you refused, but you wouldn’t be depriving the violinist of his right to your body because he still has none. Because of this, the argument must be adjusted. The right to life consists not in the right not to be killed, but rather in the right not to be killed unjustly. ” This analogy again proves the basic argument wrong, for even with the adjustment accepted, the argument doesn’t show that the fetus’s rights are violated by being killed because there is question as to what gives the unborn person such a right to use the mother’s body for food and shelter. This opens the door for another analogy; the limits of personal responsibility. Most would agree that a woman who indulges in sex chooses to do so knowing the risks involved.
Therefore, she is responsible for the consequences. Thomson questions whether this responsibility indeed gives the unborn child the right to use the woman’s body. If this is true, then you would be depriving it of its rights if it was aborted. This establishes that the unborn child has a right to its mother’s body if the pregnancy was the result of a voluntary act, and not from rape. But even then there are still problems with the argument, “for there are cases and cases, and the details make a difference. ” Thomson gives the following example to support this claim.
If you open a window at night because it is hot inside your home and one of the three possibilities occur, are you at fault for opening your window? The three possibilities are as follows: one, a burglar climbs in the window; two, the burglar broke in despite bars you installed on your windows; three, people-seeds drift in despite the expensive mesh screens you have installed to prevent their entry. Instead of coming to one solid conclusion to the argument, Thomson simply states that it’s best to set it aside because clearly every case is different.
This, in part, proves the basic argument wrong yet again. The fact that the baby has a right to life isn’t necessarily true in every case. At the beginning of the paper, I stated what Thomson’s goal was for this article. She wishes to sway the ideas of those who are against abortion by challenging the arguments they give for thinking so. She is challenging the common argument those who are against abortion use by presenting situations similar yet different.
She states “what I have been asking is whether or not the argument we began with, which proceeds only from the fetus’s being a person, really does establish its conclusion, I have argued that is does not. ” In conclusion, I feel she brings appropriate points on the table to defend her argument. It is true that the basic argument is not an accurate argument or one that can be used for every case. She isn’t claiming that abortions are always permissible or that it is permissible to secure the death of an unborn child.
I do not believe in abortion for reasons I will not address at this time and therefore am not claiming to feel the same Thomson does about all of her arguments, but I do agree that the “right to life” argument is not a solid one. With the analogies Thomson set out, it is clear that cases must be looked at individually because the details make all the difference. I feel she succeeds in her goal. She challenges the way I feel about abortion and requires that I justify my reasons for or against it for more than just the fetus’s “right to life. REFERENCES * Thomson, Judith Jarvis. 1971. “A Defense of Abortion. ” Philosophy ; Public Affairs Vol. 1, no. 1. * Gracyk, Theodore. Minnesota State University, “Judith Jarvis Thomson. ” Last modified July 26, 2006. Accessed September 22, 2011. http://www. mnstate. edu/gracyk/courses/phil%20115/thomson_on_abortion_outline. htm. * Kerstein, Samual. University of Maryland, “Judith Jarvis Thompson: “A Defense of Abortion”. ” Accessed September 22, 2011. http://www. philosophy. umd. edu/Faculty/SKerstein/140s09/thomson. html.