The Thomson’s Violinist Argument on Abortion

Most anti-abortion arguments are based on the assumption that the fetus is a human being from the moment of conception, which, according to Judith Thomson, is a weak premise. Thomson claims in her essay “A Defense of Abortion” that human development is a continuous process that begins at conception and continues through birth and childhood. As a result, drawing a line at a specific point in the process and declaring, “before this point, the thing is not an individual, and after this point, it is a person” (Thomson 47) is arbitrary. The author further argues that a fetus is a person from the point of conception; and relying on such an argument for or against abortion is dismaying.

Further, Thompson argues that the prospect of “drawing a line” in the developmental stages of a human being looks dim. In her argument, she explains that from an early point in the development cycle, the fetus acquires human characteristics (Thomson 48). By the tenth week of development in the womb, the fetus has all the features of a person; the face; the hands; the toes; the legs; and all physical parts. Moreover, the brain activity and other internal organs are detectable (Thomson 48).

Thomson’s Experiments

In her defense of abortion, Thomson formulated powerful though experiment of analogous types of different scenarios where a mother would wish to terminate her pregnancy. Through these experiments, Thomson hopes to persuade the reader that the idea of abortion is, in most cases, morally permissible. To achieve this, she presented three experiments of thought.

Thomson’s first experiment utilized the analogy of a famous violinist (Thomson 48-49). The violinist, in the case, is an innocent person whose only means of survival is being attached to a woman. However, the woman whom the violinist is attached to is kidnapped and without her consent, finds her kidneys attached to the violinist. To be saved completely, the violinist is attached to the woman kidneys, and he has to stay attached to her for nine months. She can keep the violinist alive, even though she is clearly unhappy with the situation, or unplug at any time, and let the violinist die, which will anger many people but relieve her of the pain.

The experiment presents a familiar situation of a woman who unwillingly conceives: maybe through rape, or other circumstances (Thomson 50). Just as the fetus, the violinist does not have the intention of being attached to the woman, rather finding himself being attached to her by outside forces. The fetus and the violinist are therefore innocent at this instant. It is unknown whether the fetus or the violinist was willing to be placed in the woman’s place, or whether they needed the woman’s help. However, it is certain that the woman never approved of the violinist attachment in the first place. The experiment demonstrated that, even though the fetus, just like the violinist, is a person, the woman has no obligation to keep it inside her, nor sustain its life. Thomson’s point of view is demonstrated by the analogy in the cases of rape, or unplanned parenthood, which renders the permissibility of abortion.

The second experiment of thought – “the expanding baby” – features a pregnancy that expands to the point of crushing the owner of the house (the mother) against the wall (Thomson 51). In this case, the baby inside the house will expand, and will only stop when a woman decides to attack it. The analogy created describes a life-threatening pregnancy that can eventually lead to the death of the mother. Thomson’s argument is that the mother may decide to keep the expanding baby inside the house until it kills her, or intervene and save her life. The author believes that in this case outsiders do not have a say, and the decision should solely belong to the mother.

The third experiment – the person-seed – experiment presents an analogy of an owner of a house installing isolating frames on the window screens to protect his house (Thomson 58-59). While opening the window to let the air in, the owner accidentally lets the people-seed pollen that travels through the wind to enter the house, and take root on the carpet. According to Thomson, the seed has no right to take root just because it fell in. The analogy is similar to that of a woman who had no intention of being pregnant. Through using preventive measures, the woman finds herself pregnant, and she should not be under moral obligation to keep the pregnancy, while she had no intention of having the child.

Personal Objections

Regarding the violinist experiment, the strongest objection is that in the case where the mother had unprotected sex, she is in part responsible for the child growing inside her. Unlike rape, she was aware that her actions could lead to pregnancy and therefore she is under a moral obligation to look after the baby. She bears a responsibility to the child unlike the woman to the violinist from the experiment.

However, regarding the person-seed argument, the objection the previous be overruled by the fact that the woman was not willing to have the child in the first place. The seed came in and took root on her “carpet” (womb), and she, therefore, has no obligation to keep it. Regarding the violinist argument again, in this case the mother also have to sacrifice her own body and health to make the society happy.

However, it could be argued that the unwillingness of mother to conceive spares her of the responsibility for the child in case of consensual unprotected sex. This makes her responsible for her action, and hurting an innocent life due to negligence on her part is morally unjustified. Different to rape, a person indulging in unprotected sex cannot be conducting abortions at will, as it is morally unacceptable.

Works Cited

Thomson Judith, J. “A Defense of Abortion”. Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 1, no. 1, 1971, pp. 47-66.

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