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 was not an individual, and now it is a person (Thomson, Judith,47)” is arbitrary. One that is founded on no good reason to give in the nature of things (Thomson, Judith, 47). Through this line of thought, she perceives the fetus as a person from the point of conception; and relying on such an argument for or against abortion is dismaying.

Further, Thompson’s 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, Judith, 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 can are detectable (Thomson, Judith, 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’s hoped to persuade the reader to the idea that abortion is, in most cases, morally permissible. To achieve this, he presented three experiments of thought.

Thomson’s first experiment utilized the analogy of a famous violinist (Thomson, Judith, 48-49). The violinist, in the case, is an innocent fellow whose only means of survival is being attached to a woman. However, the woman whom the violinist is attached to is kidnapped and without consent, finds her kidneys attached to the violinist. To be saved completely, the violinist is attached to the woman kidneys, where his blood is washed and has to stay by attached to her for nine months. She can appeal to the interest of the people and 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, Judith, 50). Just as the fetus, the violinist does not have the intention of being attached to the woman, rather finding himself 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, Judith, 51). In this case, the baby inside the house will expand, and would only stop when a woman decides to attack it. The analogy is that of a life-threatening pregnancy that would 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. In this case, she says that outsiders do not have a say, and the decision should solely be the mothers.

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, Judith, 58-59). While opening the window to let the air in, the people-seed pollen through the wind, is deposited on his carpet where they take root. 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 preventive measure or sex, 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 and Counter Objections

Under the violinist experiment, my objection, I think 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 would lead to pregnancy and is under a moral obligation to look after the innocent pregnancy. One bears a responsibility to the child unlike the woman to the violinist.

However, using the person-seed argument, the objection may 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. This may help the argument by taking it back the violinist analogy: the mother will hurt to make the society happy.

I do not think the response is adequate in this case since people may still argue that having by having unprotected sex, and not taking contraception, one gets pregnant. This makes her responsible for her action, and hurting an innocent life due to negligence on her part is morally unjustified. Personally, I think that abortion in a case where a woman has unprotected sex is illegal. 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”. Jstor.Org, 1971,

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