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Judith Jarvis Thomson “A Defense of Abortion” (1971)

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1 Judith Jarvis Thomson “A Defense of Abortion” (1971)

2 Before Thomson The standard conservative argument 1.The fetus is a person starting at conception. 2.Every person has a right to life. THEREFORE 3.A fetus has a right to life. 4.A mother has a right to control her own body. 5.The fetus’s right to life outweighs the mother’s right to control her own body. THEREFORE 6.The fetus may not be killed, abortion is wrong. Liberals: NO

3 Thomson’s novel approach The standard conservative argument 1.The fetus is a person starting at conception. 2.Every person has a right to life. THEREFORE 3.A fetus has a right to life. 4.A mother has a right to control her own body. 5.The fetus’s right to life outweighs the mother’s right to control her own body. THEREFORE 6.The fetus may not be killed, abortion is wrong. Thomson: Assume Thomson: What is it? What does it buy you?

4 P person with rights Thomson: what follows?

5 THE FAMOUS VIOLINIST

6 P person with rights Violinist analogy (p. 103) P person with rights person with rights The famous violinist YOU!!!!

7 Violinist analogy (p. 103) You may disconnect yourself, so the violinist dies (even though he is a person with a right to life). The famous violinist YOU!!!! So right to life of fetus does not necessarily stop abortion from being permissible.

8 The right to life The famous violinist YOU!!!!

9 A supporting example (p. 106) She has a person with a right to life. What if she needs a visit from Henry Fonda Paul McCartney to keep on living? Her right to life doesn’t give her a right to that!

10 Not a question of weighing The famous violinist YOU!!!!

11 Important! The violinist analogy isn’t the whole argument. She doesn’t think the violinist case (as initially stated) makes for a good analogy with every case of pregnancy, no matter how it comes about. That’s why there are a lot more analogies in the second half of the article.

12 CASES, CASES, CASES Thomson uses different analogies to deal with abortion under different circumstances

13 Cases I. Pregnancy due to rape II. Pregnancy when woman’s life threatened A.Self-abortion (RU486) B.Third-party abortion (doctor performs) III. Pregnancy due to failed contraception IV. Pregnancy due to no contraception A.Careless B.Deliberate pregnancy, changed mind

14 Case I. Pregnancy due to rape Conservatives disagree about pregnancy in cases of rape. How can it be justified, if the fetus is an innocent person with a right to life?

15 Case I. Pregnancy due to rape original violinist analogy (p. 104) The famous violinist YOU!!!! Woman raped, did nothing to make fetus dependent on her for life. You were kidnapped, did nothing to make violinist dependent on you for life.

16 1.Pregnancy due to rape is like being involuntarily hooked up to the famous violinist. 2.You’re entitled to unplug yourself from the violinist, even if it causes his death. THEREFORE 3.A woman is entitled to an abortion after rape. Violinist argument

17 Case II. Woman’s life threatened Many conservatives think abortion is justified when woman’s life is threatened, but the Catholic position is that it’s always wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being. In Catholic hospitals, most abortions are prohibited, even if woman’s life is endangered.

18 Case II. Woman’s life threatened, A. may she self-abort? violinist analogy, revised (p. 105) The famous violinist YOU!!!! REMAINING WILL CAUSE YOUR DEATH. YOU WANT TO UNPLUG YOURSELF.

19 1.Life-threatening pregnancy is like being hooked up to the violinist and thereby threatened with death. 2.You’re entitled to unplug yourself from the violinist, even if it causes his death. THEREFORE 3.A woman is entitled to self-abort if her life is threatened by pregnancy. Violinist argument, version 2

20 Case II. Mother’s life threatened, A. may she self-abort? tiny house, growing child (p. 105)

21 1.Taking RU486* to save your life, in case of life-threatening pregnancy, is like killing the expanding baby in self-defense. 2.It’s permissible to kill the expanding baby in self-defense. THEREFORE, 3.It’s permissible to take RU486 to save your life. Tiny house argument *New drug used to induce miscarriage, not developed yet when Thomson wrote the article.

22 Case II. Mother’s life threatened, B. may doctor perform abortion? tiny house, growing child, third party (p. 105)

23 1.A doctor performing an abortion in case of life-threatening pregnancy is like a third party killing the expanding baby. 2.It’s permissible for a third party to kill the expanding baby. THEREFORE, 3.A doctor may perform an abortion in case of a life-threatening pregnancy. Tiny house argument, version 2

24 Case III. Contraceptive failure sex was voluntary, risks were known woman’s life not threatened pregnancy occurred because of a broken condom Thomson: “Is she not in part responsible for the presence, in fact the very existence, of the unborn person insider her? No doubt she did not invite it in. But doesn’t her partial responsibility for its being there itself give it a right to the use of her body” (p. 108) To answer her question, she introduces more analogies

25 Case III. Contraceptive failure burglars and burglar bars (p. 109)

26 Burglar bar argument 1.A burglar has no right to enter my room, just because I open the windows (it’s stuffy inside, and there are burglar bars). 2.A fetus entering uterus, despite contraception, is like a burglar entering my room, despite burglar bars. THEREFORE, 1.A fetus has no right to remain in uterus.

27 Case III. Contraceptive failure people-seeds, fine-meshed screens

28 People seed argument 1.Suppose people seeds drift around and can take root in carpets, if you don’t use fine meshed screens. You use screens, but one gets into your carpet. The seed doesn’t have a right to use your house. 2.Sex with contraception is analogous. THEREFORE, 3.Fetus doesn’t have a right to use woman’s uterus.

29 Case IV. No contraception “It seems to me that the argument we are looking at can establish at most that there are some cases in which the unborn person has a right to the use of its mother’s body, and therefore some cases in which abortion is unjust killing. There is room for much discussion and argument as to precisely which, if any. But I think we should sidestep this issue and leave it open, for at any rate the argument certainly does not establish that all abortion is unjust killing.” (p. 108)

30 What about these situations? 1.Juno. They are simply careless. Does that mean fetus has a right to her body? 2.Changed mind. Woman gets pregnant deliberately, but relationship goes bad. Wants to abort. Does fetus have right to use her body?

31 The plot thickens

32 Two different questions 1.RIGHTS QUESTION. Does fetus have a right to uterus in this particular case? Would the woman have a right to abort? SUPPOSE WOMAN DOES HAVE RIGHT 2.SHOULD SHE DO IT?  She should respect rights  She should be a minimally decent Samaritan

33 Minimally decent Samaritans GOOD Samaritans make huge sacrifices for others. Too much to expect! MINIMALLY DECENT Samaritans make relatively small sacrifices.

34 More cases! 1.Violinist needs you briefly – for just an hour  You should respect rights  You should be a minimally decent Samaritan You’re entitled to unplug yourself, but you shouldn’t.

35 More cases! 2.Quick pregnancy, would take an hour  You should respect rights  You should be a minimally decent Samaritan You’re entitled to have an abortion, but you shouldn’t.

36 More cases! 3.7 th month, you want to take a trip abroad  You should respect rights  You should be a minimally decent Samaritan You’re entitled to have an abortion, but you shouldn’t.

37 Summary Must examine meaning of “right to life” Fetus has no right to woman’s body in many cases, even assuming fetus is a person But we should be “minimally decent Samaritans” – support fetus if sacrifice is small Can’t generalize – abortion not always wrong, not always right Only “pretending” (p. 110) fetus is a person from conception—she thinks this is not true early on.


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