Thomson starts by stating a common opposition to abortion that she has a problem with. It is the idea that anti-abortionists believe that a fetus is a human from the moment of conception. She not only does not believe that this is a strong argument, but she also claims that it is too slippery of a slope for even a pro-abortionist to easily disagree with. For Thomson to start her defense of abortion by stating a common oppositional view and not just disagreeing with it, but taking an argument against it a little further and actually considering that it is not a simple right or wrong idea at face value was smart. It makes her continued argument against her point of a fetus being a person making abortion morally impermissible a stronger argument. She continues to make this argument even stronger by yielding to this questionable premise that fetuses are people from the moment of conception and then continues to defend abortion even with this common oppositional point accepted. Like in Colorado and North Dakota where personhood rights have consistently been voted against for fetuses since the moment of fertilization, they get that those against abortions are mostly just “extremists interfering in our personal and private decisions” (Basset 1). So many anti abortionists just attempt to force their beliefs, usually religious ones that they use to direct their morality, onto those considering abortion. It takes away the already difficult and personal sense of the decision the parent has to make. But that is another discussion for later.
The example that Thomson uses to compare abortion to someone being kidnapped to save a famous violinist from a failed kidney ailment because that person is the only one that has this musician’s blood type is not good. Although I understand the point she is getting at, in comparing a kidnapping to getting pregnant by rape, and then being forced to share a blood source, your body, etc. with a fetus (or in the example, with another person). It is not a very strong point though because this is a very hypothetical and extreme case to compare carrying a child unintentionally or undesirably to.
Considering how strong her introduction argument was, I also see her argument against the weak claim of abortion being impermissible even if continuing the pregnancy may shorten the mother’s life as an even weaker argument in and of itself. Thomson even says himself that “Such cases are nowadays very rare, and many opponents of abortion do not accept this extreme view” (Thomson 50). If she knows that even those who disagree with the argument he is trying to make do not often use this argument to support their claims, then there is no point in even disagreeing with it as a part of this big defense of abortion. It is an obtuse idea to cling to considering how it is a rarely applicable circumstance for abortions nowadays.
It is smart of Thomson to later consider the arguments of what the third person would think in these situations of abortion, and how that goes into the morals behind the practice. I think this makes the entire defense of abortion stronger to critique the outsider’s perspective. Of course, in the ideal world, what anyone else thinks should not matter. Whether or not an abortion is morally right or wrong should between the mother of the child and her unborn child, or the mother of the child and the child’s father. Of course, it is not always that simple, but that is because that would just be in the ideal world. Once again of course Thomson uses an extremely hypothetical situation in her argument surround the third party’s perspective. The situation of a mother living in an extremely small house with a child is a little better of a hypothetical than the previous one he tried to use, though I believe that once again sticking to facts would have been good enough for the argument. She was already doing a good job of defending self-defense and one’s own life preservation in a possibly life threatening pregnancy before bringing in this hypothetical situation.
Thomson’s argument that no one has the right to something of yours, even if it is all they need to survive, is a great argument. Though her examples are hypothetical, they are right on in this sense. A child has no right to life if the mother does not give it that right. Though it would be nice if they both could live, if it is a choice of one or the other (like in the case of a life threatening birth) then the child has no right to take the mother’s life to live if the mother does not want to give up her life. One life should always be considered equally as important as any other. Everyone who is living has a right to his or her life. This can once again bring us back to the argument of when a fetus should be considered a life form.
The next major question, stemming from this right to life discussion and what a right to life ultimately means, is the question of whether abortion is unjust killing. Thomson covers both the situations of a pregnancy due to rape and a pregnancy due to consensual sex. Both are situations in which a woman does not directly welcome nor anticipate pregnancy. What needs to be considered is whether it is still fair for the mother to not want to share her body with this child, even if she knew the risk of pregnancy when having sex. This is a debate in all cases where the pregnancy was due to voluntary circumstances. In cases of rape, it is already concluded in Thomson’s essay that the child then has no right to the mother’s body because the person who impregnated her was given no right to even have sex with her, therefore it is not unjust in killing the child who had no right to the life it was given in the first place. This entire discussion has no clean ending though, because the little details of every situation, the idea that the woman who has an unwanted pregnancy could have refrained from sex all together if that we the case, etc. all will have a part in whether an abortion is unjust killing in that particular situation.
Thomson’s defense of abortion then continues when she shares that we should keep a tight rein on what is right or wrong when it comes to abortion. She believes arguments get weak when people start to consider what one ought to do and letting that ultimately mean that is what is right to do. I agree that what one should do and what is morally correct to do can be different things depending on the case, and that is ok. What one should do is also so different depending on the person and their own ideas of what is morally correct. It is not very cut-and-dry.
I admire where Thomson critiques her own argument from the perspective of anti-abortionists. It is true; that her argument is not as strong because she never said that abortion is always permissible, just that it is not always impermissible. That it is always permissible is a stronger claim though of course harder and probably nearly impossible to defend 100%. Thomson’s concluding sentence though makes all of the critiques of her argument she previously made weaker, in stating that “A very early abortion is surely not the killing of a person, and so is not dealt with by anything I have said here” (Thomson 66). By making her previous critiques of her own argument weaker with this statement, she is ultimately making her entire defense of abortion here stronger. This was a smart literary and argumentative move.
Bassett, Laura. Colorado and North Dakota Voters Reject Fetal Personhood Measures. Huffington Post. 2014
Thomson, Judith Jarvis. A Defense of Abortion. Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 1, No. 1. (Autumn 1971), pp. 47-66.