AN ANALYTICAL RESPONSE TO JUDITH JARVIS THOMSON’S INFLUENTIAL ESSAY: “A DEFENSE OF ABORTION” (Read Thomson’s essay here: http://www.atfyfe.com/wp-content/up...). In regards to the essay written by Mrs. Thomson, “A Defense of Abortion,” the following essay is an analysis of her arguments. Thomson’s arguments all stem from one question “Is abortion impermissible?” The purpose for the following essay is to establish the unacceptability of abortion. The author will address and explain three main defenses against Thompson’s arguments: the reality of moral rationalism, the bias of bodily rights, the disaster of deontological ethics...
According to Thomson’s opinion, a fetus is not a person from the moment of conception. For the sake of the argument of morality, however, Thomson pretends that a fetus is a human being to process any rights that a fetus might have and when a fetus acquires them. Before this author takes on Thomson’s arguments, he would like to touch lightly on the facts pertaining to a fetus’ human hood and person hood in order to even begin to acknowledge that such an argument of a fetus’ rights, or lack thereof in Thomson’s case, is needed to be established.
A fetus does possess human hood and person hood as science and logic prescribe. Francis J. Beckwith, an established American philosopher, Christian apologist, and scholar, has done an extensive amount of research pertaining to the human hood of a fetus. Beckwith explains that “(when) the union of the fetus female ovum...and the male sperm (unify)...the conceptus is a new although tiny, individual with its’ own genetic code...” which is different from the mother’s or father’s own code (Francis J. Beckwith, 1993, 42). He continues to comment on the work of Stephen M. Krason, the director of the political science program at Franciscan University, that a fetus’ brain and nervous system is mostly constructed by the eighteenth day after conception; therefore, the developing fetus can feel personalized pain (Beckwith, 1993, 44). The humanness of a fetus is generally accepted; however, his or hers person hood is not so much. Stephen D. Schwarz, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Rhode Island, has urged that difference in size, metal development, environment, and dependency has nothing to contribute to the person hood of a fetus (Stephen D. Schwarz, 1990, Chapter 1). We would never think to kill a four-year-old because of his or hers lack of person hood due to lack of adult size or development; nor should we think the same of a fetus. What does human hood and person hood accomplish for an argument against abortion: A fetus has a right to life. Now that the human hood and person hood of a fetus is lightly ascribed, we must look at Thomson’s arguments with such facts in mind.
The first argument that Thomson gives tries to establish that a fetus has no rights to use a mother’s body. She parallels a pregnancy caused by rape to a hypothetical situation which evolves a violinist with failing kidneys and an abducted person. The kidnapper represents a rapist, and the person kidnapped is the violated woman who now has to provide life to a fetus, or in this case a violinist. Truth is, this odd, hypothetical kidnapping is rarely seen in our world and can not be rightly applied to such a prominent and unique situation such as pregnancy caused by rape. In Thomson’s violinist theory, the women have been forced by injustice to be attached. This goes against the voluntary actions that general pregnant mothers are involved in (Robert M. Baird, Stuart E. Rosenbaum, The Ethics of Abortion, 2001, 261). Thomson is working on a weaker point of her argument as she is trying to justify abortion through a small percentage of rape victims. According to the Health Research Funding Organization, there are 1.2 million abortions in the U.S. every year. Out of this number, only about 32,000 pregnancies result from sexual assaults or rape (healthresearchfunding.org, Feb. 26, 2015). That is roughly 27% of all pregnancies (however, fewer than 1% actually have abortions [who also regret it afterward] out of this number). This analogy that Thompson uses demeans the sanctity between a mother and her child as to a kidnapping. She is more or less decreasing the value of the lives (however so small) of infants who have been created by rape, by focusing on the demeaning action of a rapist (Beckwith, 1993, 131). Thomson is promoting situational ethics through her hypothetical situation analogy. Such ethics does not make abortion permissible.
Thomson’s moral rationalism does not make abortion permissible. She even admits indirectly that such ethics “can” denote that a person’s right to life is only given based on the origin of the baby, not it’s human life. As John T. Wilcox comments that with such logic there would have to be “first-class and second-class moral citizens; we would have to give persons conceived in rape fewer rights or less serious rights than other persons.” (Baird, 2001, 262). Moral rationalism presents more problems than it solves. As Harry J. Gentler, professor of philosophy at Loyola University, writes that with rationalism you could “justify killing not just fetuses, but also infants and the sick or handicapped or elderly...” basing right to life on what is most practical or in this case what is more rational (Baird, 2001, 215). Thomson’s logic can be concluded with that the guilty act of a rapist, lessens the rights of an innocent fetus. Thomson seems to acknowledge the flaw in establishing bodily rights with such logic yet she gives us another situation to prove the bodily rights of a mother.
Does a mother’s bodily rights make abortion impermissible when the mother’s life is in jeopardy? Both have equal rights to life, so who gets to live in such a situation? In Thomson’s opinion, the mother has the right to exercise, even if that is involving a third party, self-defense to preserve her life which is endangered by her developing fetus. She writes, “But it cannot seriously be thought to be murder if the mother performs an abortion on herself to save her life.” (Judith Thomson, A Defense of Abortion, 52). Thomson gives us two theories, “tiny house” and the “Smith’s coat,” in order to explain the right of self-defense and how third parties can be involved. For the purposes of this essay, this author will not discuss in detail the problems with such theories. However, the author would like to look at Thomson’s conclusion which is derived from these theories: a mother owns her body and thus can do whatever she wants to keep her perceived well-being, even if it means murder. Again, Thomson holds an ethic of moral rationalism. Such view about bodily rights reflects that of property rights. With it, we could then say that a person can do drugs, prostitute themselves and even commit suicide because they own their body (Tooley, Michael, Celi Wolf-Devine, etc., Abortion: Three Perspectives, 2009, 93) and be helped by third parties to do so (assisted suicide fits this logic). Most of Thomson’s readers knows that there are laws against such deeds. Why do some make pregnancy and abortion different than this reality? If we know that a mother can not logically have bodily rights against her child’s rights, what rights does a baby have to his or hers mother’s body? To find any such rights, Thomson looks at any responsibility that the parents could have that would obligate themselves to submit to the right of life of their child.
Abortion is impermissible even when a mother is not responsible for her child’s presence. Thompson leads us to the question of “What is the right to life?” She expresses that no one has the right against your right to preserve any of your resources. She uses several illustrations, as she concludes that such matters, as abortion, are not about a right not to be killed but a right not to be killed unjustly. It is here that we find Thompson’s thesis, “...the right of life consists not in the right not to be killed, but rather in the right not to be killed unjustly.” (Thomson, 57). This principle is where the majority of Thomson’s focus lies, so this essay’s author will spend the rest of the essay analyzing this principle. It has been indirectly established, by Thomson, that abortion can, in fact, “violate” a fetus’ right to life through unjust killing. So how and when is abortion not unjust killing? In order to answer such a question in favor of abortion, Thomson denies “special responsibility.” With which, she goes on to explain her “volunteer theory” (Tooley, 2009, 74) by using the analogy of the “widow and burglar/people-seeds.” There are many problems with such an analogy as it is far from reality and all seriousness, as it seems almost sardonic; however, for the sake of the argument, we shall continue only with its’ principle: Liberal Individualism.
To fuel Thomson’s train of moral rationalism, she adds liberal individualism to her fire, with which she rules out a baby’s right to life by the lack of voluntary actions participated by the mother. Before she gave us the illustration of the widow and burglar/people-seeds, she concluded that there is no “special kind of responsibility” among a parent and child. This makes Thompson’s view of liberal individualism naturally against Communitarianism. It is clear that Thompson is explaining that there is no such thing as a right of life for a child, but only when it is voluntarily granted it by a parent through sexual intercourse.
As Celia Wolf-Devine, an established author as well as the professor of philosophy at Providence College, tells us that with such principle, the responsibility of parenting is strictly one of “adoption.” If we are to logically live out this principle, children would also have the right to chose if they wanted to receive their parents care, just as a parent would have the right to chose to withhold care from them (Tooley, 2009, 74). This is obviously not the view of the United States government, as the government has such laws promoting Communitarianism (in a general sense). As Francis J. Beckwith puts it, even if there are things put in place to ensure that intercourse does not allow conception, yet conception happens, both parties are held accountable (in the U.S.A.). Beckwith continues to say, that we know that if a mother gives birth to her conceived child, without support or knowledge of the father, and she goes to court to have the father pay child support, the father is required by law to do so (Beckwith, 1993, 129). Unlike Thompson, the United States’ government recognizes that responsibility is separate from voluntarily or involuntary actions. Just because a woman might not have responsibility in the “action,” as with a rapist, it does not mean she does not have responsibility for the aftermath: the protection of the right to life of a fetus (Baird, 2001, 264). Babies are not granted their right to life through any voluntary actions done by the mother or father, but when there is a parental relationship created. Still, the question remains opposed, “What if the mother’s life is endangered? Is abortion permissible then?”
Thomson answers “yes” through holding her deontological ethic. To further continue Thomson’s view of moral relativism, she says if there is no permission (in any situation) for a fetus to use the body of the mother, that there is simply a principle of an “ought” not a “right.” It is here that we find Thomson’s deontological ethic ruling over her entire argument. She reflects back on her analogy about the boy with chocolates. The boy has complete “rights” to keep his chocolates, and thus not responsible to share them. It is here that Thomson adds that the boy “ought” to share, as it is “callous” not to; however, not sharing is not being unjust. She describes the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan to establish that there are different levels of morality. One level which “requires,” and one that is merely an “ought” (or to do what is beyond what I required to be “Minimally Decent Samaritan”). She thus ascribes that providing life to a fetus in an involuntary pregnancy is merely kindness towards the fetus, not it’s right.
With such deontological ethics, the right to life is really based on “charity,” as John T. Wilcox says, and not on rights or justice (Baird, 2001, 258). The right to life is merely what our personal obligation has granted someone with. Therefore, a human life’s value is only ascribed to what personal obligation by what commitment we have toward another person. If we are to have a baby dropped off at our doorstep, we “ought” to provide some sort of care, but we are not obligated to, as there has been no responsibility given through commitment. With such logic, life does not have a “right” ascribed to it, but it is earned by favor or accidental action of commitment.
The author of this essay has established that abortion (murder) is impermissible, as a mother has no type of bodily rights against a fetus, and that the obligation to provide continued life for a fetus is founded in “life” itself, and not by actions or the lack of voluntary ones.
(THOMAS ALBERT KILIAN III - MARCH 18, 2016 - Revision #3)
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Kilian is a well known preacher who has spoken at large while studying at Mid-Atlantic Christian University working towards BA. He currently holds an AA in Biblical Studies and is a Theta Alpha Kappa (a national honor society) member.