Refuting Judith Jarvis Thomson's "A Defense of Abortion" (Part 8)

(I apologize for the missed posts. My school kind of took over last week. And I actually didn't realize I'd skipped two posts when I got on today - I had it in my head for some reason that I'd only missed one. In the future, if I don't post, you may assume it's because school is taking up all of my time.)

Judith Jarvis Thomson

Click here to read part 1.
Click here to read part 2.
Click here to read part 3.
Click here to read part 4.
Click here to read part 5.
Click here to read part 6.
Click here to read part 7.

This is the continuation of my dissection of the "ultimate pro-abortion argument". If we can prove this argument wrong, we can prove any pro-abortion argument wrong. This series will probably have roughly nine parts to it, because it is naturally divided up into sections. My comments are (in parentheses and underlined).

In this section, Mrs. Thomson is continuing to attempt to redefine morality so she can get rid of morality and justify abortion.This in itself is a great indicator that her overall argument of absolute bodily autonomy (covered in previous sections) is bogus, because if it were true, she would have no need to try to erase our morality. It would already, morally, make sense. This section, specifically, tries to dispose of personal responsibility.

Judith Jarvis Thomson: A Defense of Abortion

From Philosophy & Public Affairs, Vol. 1, no. 1 (Fall 1971).

(Reprinted in "Intervention and Reflection: Basic Issues in Medical Ethics," 5th ed., ed. Ronald Munson (Belmont; Wadsworth 1996). pp 69-80



Following the lead of the opponents of abortion, I have throughout been speaking of the fetus merely as a person, and what I have been asking is whether or not the argument we began with, which proceeds only from the fetus's being a person, really does establish its conclusion. I have argued that it does not. (You haven’t proved anything because you’re assuming that people have an absolute right to bodily autonomy, which we do not, so the argument that abortion should be illegal because the fetus is a person still stands. But whatever.)

But of course there are arguments and arguments, and it may be said that I have simply fastened on the wrong one. It may be said that what is important is not merely the fact that the fetus is a person, but that it is a person for whom the woman has a special kind of responsibility issuing from the fact that she is its mother. (This is true.) And it might be argued that all my analogies are therefore irrelevant--for you do not have that special kind of responsibility for that violinist; Henry Fonda does not have that special kind of responsibility for me. (This is also true.) And our attention might be drawn to the fact that men and women both are compelled by law to provide support for their children. (Indeed they are.)

I have in effect dealt (briefly) with this argument in section 4 above; but a (still briefer) recapitulation now may be in order. Surely we do not have any such "special responsibility" for a person unless we have assumed it, explicitly or implicitly. If a set of parents do not try to prevent pregnancy, do not obtain an abortion, but rather take it home with them, then they have assumed responsibility for it, they have given it rights, and they cannot now withdraw support from it at the cost of its life because they now find it difficult to go on providing for it. (No, they took responsibility for the child when they risked bringing the child into existence.) But if they have taken all reasonable precautions against having a child, they do not simply by virtue of their biological relationship to the child who comes into existence have a special responsibility for it. (Yes they do.)They may wish to assume responsibility for it, or they may not wish to. (It doesn’t matter what they “wish” to do. You may “wish” to leave your infant in the woods so that she dies if you wanted an abortion but were not able to get one, but the law does not care what you “wish” to do. It never matters what you “wish” to do; we’re talking about right and wrong.) And I am suggesting that if assuming responsibility for it would require large sacrifices, then they may refuse. A Good Samaritan would not refuse--or anyway, a Splendid Samaritan, if the sacrifices that had to be made were enormous. But then so would a Good Samaritan assume responsibility for that violinist; so would Henry Fonda, if he is a Good Samaritan, fly in from the West Coast and assume responsibility for me. (You did not bring the violinist into existence, Henry Fonda did not bring you into existence, and you and Henry Fonda are not directly responsible for the intentional killing of your own offspring.

The hard truth, Mrs. Thomson, is that the world doesn't let us choose our own responsibilities. Some responsibilities are more or less optional, like taking the responsibility to turn in schoolwork assignments on time, but we can't pick and choose all of our responsibilities. It doesn't work like that. You can't say, "Well, I didn't ever take responsibility for this girl's well-being, so there's no reason I can't rape her." Similarly, you can't say, "Well, I never took responsibility for this baby (either 'because I was raped' or 'because I didn't mean to get pregnant' will do here), therefore there's no reason I can't kill her." Like it or not, the stability of the world depends on morals, including responsibility.)

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