A Critique of Judith Thomson’s A Defense of Abortion Essays

A Critique of Judith Thomson’s A Defense of Abortion Essays

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In A Defense of Abortion (Cahn and Markie), Judith Thomson presents an argument that abortion can be morally permissible even if the fetus is considered to be a person. Her primary reason for presenting an argument of this nature is that the abortion argument at the time had effectively come to a standstill. The typical anti-abortion argument was based on the idea that a fetus is a person and since killing a person is wrong, abortion is wrong. The pro-abortion adopts the opposite view: namely, that a fetus is not a person and is thus not entitled to the rights of people and so killing it couldn’t possibly be wrong.
Thomson’s argument is presented in three components. The first section deals with the now famous violinist thought experiment. This experiment presents a situation in which you wake up one morning and discover you have been kidnapped and hooked up to an ailing violinist so that his body would have the use of your kidneys for the next nine months. The intuitive and instinctive reaction to this situation is that you have no moral duty to remain hooked up to the violinist, and more, that he (or the people who kidnapped you) does not have the right to demand the use of your body for this period. From a deontological point of view, it can be seen that in a conflict between the right of life of the fetus and the right to bodily integrity of the mother, the mother’s rights will trump those of the fetus. Thomson distills this by saying “the right to life consists not in the right not to be killed, but rather in the right not to be killed unjustly”.
Thomson recognizes that this thought experiment has a very limited application – specifically to those instances where a pregnancy is the result of coercion or violence. In the sec...

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...t the court left for states to ban late-term abortions. Many feel that a fetus near the end of a pregnancy is simply too like a human to come up with any justification for killing it, unless the pregnancy threatens the health of the mother. The line on the spectrum that the court ended up defining was based on when the fetus becomes viable. Before this point, the fetus is entirely dependent on the mother and the court left the mother with the ability to withdraw her support from the fetus. After the point of viability, society as a whole is then able to assist in taking care of the infant. This then, is where the fetus gains the added requirement to its right to life discussed earlier.

Works Cited
Cahn, Steven M. and Peter Markie, Ethics: History, Theory and Contemporary Issues. 4th Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Roe v. Wade. No. 410. U.S. 1973.

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