A Defense Of Abortion Philosophy Essay
In Judith Thomsons A Defense of Abortion, she argues that abortion can be permissible, depending on the situation at hand. Thomson focuses on the right to life for fetuses and shows that there are situations where fetuses have no right to use their mother’s body. It is in those circumstances, which do happen often, where abortion is permissible. Don Marquis, on the other hand, argues that abortion is rarely acceptable. In his paper “Why Abortion is Immoral,” he focuses on the idea that killing is morally wrong. He proves his point by focusing on people’s futures, and how killing someone takes away that victims future. All in all, Thomson presents her argument in a clear manner, while effectively covering multiple circumstantial situations, giving her argument the edge over Marquis’s.
To understand Thomson’s argument, one must know that she considers the fetus to be a person. It is often argued that the fetus is not a person, especially by pro-choice activists. Thomson decides to go along with a common pro-life notion, and still progresses to show that abortion should be permissible. Because the fetus is considered a person, it has a right to life, just as strong as a right to life as any other human. It would seem obvious that one could say if that is the case, then an abortion should not be permissible. Women obviously have a right to what happens in and to their bodies, but the right to life for a fetus must outweigh it. Life is the most valuable thing one can have. Without life, women wouldn’t even be able to have babies.
But, situations exist where although the fetus still does have a right to life, it does not have a right to the use of the mother’s body. To prove this, Thomson presents us with a thought experiment. Imagine waking up next to a famous violinist. His circulatory system is plugged into yours, and unplugging yourself will lead to the death of the violinist. You were kidnaped and had no choice but to let this happen. After nine months of being plugged in, the violinist will have recovered and you could then leave. As mentioned before, “a person’s right to life outweighs your right to decide what happens to your body” (Thomson 49). Even though you were forced into the situation, the violinist’s right to life is more valued than your right to decide what happens to your body. According to that logic, you cannot unplug yourself from the violinist.
According to Thomson, it is outrageous to say that you cannot unplug yourself. You were forced into the situation. If you voluntarily plugged yourself in, then the violinist has a right to your body. You chose to be part of the situation. But you were kidnapped. He still has his right to life, but he does not have a right to use your body. “If you do allow him to go on using your kidneys, this is kindness on your part, and not something he can claim from you as his due” (Thomson 55). It would be a very good deed and act of kindness to let the violinist use your body, but in no way are you obligated to.
The violinist story relates to abortion in multiple ways. The most notable example would be rape. If one is forced into sexual relations with someone and gets pregnant, the baby has no right to use the mother’s body. She did not agree to have sex, and therefore did not agree to the possibility of having the baby. The baby has no right to the mother’s body and in this case, abortion is permissible. Birth control is another issue that relates to the violinist story. If one uses birth control, they have no intentions of having a baby. If something goes wrong with the birth control, and the women gets pregnant, the baby has no right to use the mother’s body. The women took the necessary precautions to not have a baby, and got unlucky. In this case, abortion is also acceptable. Keeping the baby would be a very kind act, but is not obligatory. All in all, Thomson proves that abortion is acceptable in some circumstances by showing how women are not always obligated to keep their babies, and that keeping their babies in those situations should be considered an act of kindness.
In order to challenge Thomson, Don Marquis’s attempts to show how killing can never be acceptable. First off, Marquis operates under the notion that a fetus is not a person. He uses part of a common pro-choice argument and attempts to prove why abortion is almost always wrong. Marquis starts his argument by focusing on the topic of killing. In general, nothing should be considered worse than killing. It is the biggest loss one can suffer. Death “deprives one of all experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments that would otherwise have constituted one’s future” (Marquis 29). These activities and experiences are valuable everyone. And if they aren’t valuable to us now, that does not mean they won’t be valuable to us in the future. Death deprives people from their current and future values, which is why killing someone should always be considered wrong.
In relation to abortion, the claim Marquis makes is that is wrong to kill a fetus. Remember, Marquis is proving his point with the assumption that a fetus is not a person, so the idea that killing a person is wrong means nothing to him. His point is that it is wrong to kill someone because it stops him or her from having a future of value (Marquis 31). Fetuses face a future of experiences and activities, just like adults and young children. Therefore, it is wrong to kill a fetus. He does say that under certain circumstances abortion is understandable though. “If the consequence of failing to abort would be at least as great,” then abortion is permissible (Marquis 33). So, if the loss of the future for a standard fetus is at lest as great as the loss of a future for a standard adult human being, abortion can be justified.
Because Marquis thinks fetuses have future values, it is reasonable to infer that he thinks fetuses have a right to life. And since this right to life is his reasoning for believing abortion should not be permitted, it can also be inferred that he thinks a fetuses right to life will always overpower a women’s right to her body. Here, his challenge to Thomson is presented. Marquis believes that we cannot kill fetuses because they have a future of value in front of them. The only way killing a fetus is reasonable is if “the loss of failing to abort would be at least as great” (Marquis 33). Thomson would respond by bringing up the topics of birth control and rape. If a woman agrees to sex and gets pregnant, she grants the fetus the right to her body. But if the woman takes birth control or is forced into sex and gets pregnant, she never offered her body up to the fetus. The fetus still has a right to life, but no right to use the body of the mother. It is in those cases where the woman’s right to her body overpowers the fetuses right to life. Abortion is acceptable in those situations, says Thomson.
Not only does Thomson have a perfectly reasonable response to Marquis’s argument, but Marquis’s argument has a bunch of loose ends. According to him, abortion is only acceptable if not aborting leads to just as much or more loss. It is a little confusing to figure out what he means by that. The loss he is referring to is the loss of future value. But how does one decide the future value of something? There can be a situation in which a mother lives in a bad neighborhood with no husband. She knows there is a good chance that her kid will be involved with drugs and violence and not live a happy life. Should she not have the baby because the fetus doesn’t have a future of value?
Marquis would respond to this by brining up the topic of suicide. Marquis mentions an example of how a young boy is recued from suicide and goes on to make significant human achievements (Marquis 34). He says the man who saved him did it because he saw future value in the young boy. But how do we know that is why the man saved the boy? He may have done it due to quick reaction or instinct. Or maybe he thought it was just the right thing to do and coincidently, the young boy went on to have a successful life. All in all, future value is a vague subject that doesn’t seem like a measurable characteristic.
Imagine you are driving a car on a narrow street that is located on a steep cliff. You are driving at a pretty fast pace and all of a sudden you see 2 people in the middle of the road. There are only two options, you either hit the two people in the street and kill them, or you turn and avoid the people. This would lead you to fall down the cliff, which would bring you to your death. According to Marquis, abortion is only acceptable if not aborting leads to just as much or more loss of future value. The presented situation is not about abortion, but does take on the topic of future value. We may not know what future value means exactly, but it is reasonable to contemplate that 2 people have more future value than one person. So in the presented situation, Marquis would probably say that that the driver is obligated to turn the wheel and kill himself. But suicide is morally wrong. In this situation, Marquis’s ideals conflict with the basic morals we have as humans, which further weakens his argument.
All in all, Thomson and Marquis have similar arguments. Marquis believes that abortion is only permissible if not aborting leads to just as much or more loss, which does not happen often. Thomson believes abortion is only acceptable if the mother gives the fetus a right to use her body. They agree on the fact that fetuses have a right to life, but they differ in the fact that Thomson thinks a woman’s right to her body can sometimes overpower the fetuses right to life. The reason Thomson’s argument is more effective is because he doesn’t rely on such an ambiguous topic. The idea of a future value makes sense, but how does one measure them? It is too challenging to put an exact worth on future values, so it is therefore hard to understand when Marquis thinks abortion is permissible. Thomson, on the other hand, provides an argument that makes it clear when abortion is permissible and when it is not. He effectively uses multiple thought experiments to clarify his point. The thought experiments force readers to think about the situation happening to himself or herself, which is very effective. It appeals to the reader’s senses. Not only is Thomson’s argument clear, but he also uses effective strategies to relay his point, which gives his argument the edge over Marquis’s.
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