|Judith Jarvis Thomson|
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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 is the last segment in this series. My comments are (in parentheses and underlined).
In this section, Ms. Thomson sums up her previous arguments which, since I have refuted them in previous sections, are still invalid.
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
My argument will be found unsatisfactory on two counts by many of those who want to regard abortion as morally permissible. First, while I do argue that abortion is not impermissible, I do not argue that it is always permissible. There may well be cases in which carrying the child to term requires only Minimally Decent Samaritanism of the mother, and this is a standard we must not fall below. (But where is that mark? I think that you're a Minimally Decent Samaritan when you don't kill your unborn children for convenience. You can't just point to your own version of Minimally Decent Samaritanism and declare that's the right thing. If something directly hurts someone else (like abortion, born murders, rape, robbery, beatings, sexual abuse, etc.) then it's wrong. Period.) I am inclined to think it a merit of my account precisely that it does not give a general yes or a general no. It allows for and supports our sense that, for example, a sick and desperately frightened fourteen-year-old schoolgirl, pregnant due to rape, may of course choose abortion, and that any law which rules this out is an insane law. (No it's not. A law outlawing murder is not insane in any circumstances.) And it also allows for and supports our sense that in other cases resort to abortion is even positively indecent. It would be indecent in the woman to request an abortion, and indecent in a doctor to perform it, if she is in her seventh month, and wants the abortion just to avoid the nuisance of postponing a trip abroad. (It would be just as indecent to perform an abortion on the terrified, raped fourteen year old girl, because in both cirtumstances the result is a dead baby.) The very fact that the arguments I have been drawing attention to treat all cases of abortion, or even all cases of abortion in which the mother's life is not at stake, as morally on a par ought to have made them suspect at the outset.
Second, while I am arguing for the permissibility of abortion in some cases, I am not arguing for the right to secure the death of the unborn child. It is easy to confuse these two things in that up to a certain point in the life of the fetus it is not able to survive outside the mother's body; hence removing it from her body guarantees its death. But they are importantly different. I have argued that you are not morally required to spend nine months in bed, sustaining the life of that violinist, but to say this is by no means to say that if, when you unplug yourself, there is a miracle and he survives, you then have a right to turn round and slit his throat. You may detach yourself even if this costs him his life; you have no right to be guaranteed his death, by some other means, if unplugging yourself does not kill him. (Totally unrelated, as abortion when the fetuses do not survive are wrong. However, why not turn around and slit the baby's throat? There's nothing different between a 23-week-old fetus being killed in an abortion, and a 23-week-old fetus surviving an abortion and then having his neck slit. The result is the intentional slaughter of an innocent life. THERE. IS. NO. DIFFERENCE.) There are some people who will feel dissatisfied by this feature of my argument. A woman may be utterly devastated by the thought of a child, a bit of herself, put out for adoption and never seen or heard of again. (But, naturally, she'll be completely at ease if she makes sure her kid dies.) She may therefore want not merely that the child be detached from her, but more, that it die. Some opponents of abortion are inclined to regard this as beneath contempt--thereby showing insensitivity to what is surely a powerful source of despair. All the same, I agree that the desire for the child's death is not one which anybody may gratify, should it turn out to be possible to detach the child alive. (So remind me...why do you say abortion is okay?)
At this place, however, it should be remembered that we have only been pretending throughout that the fetus is a human being from the moment of conception. A very early abortion is surely not the killing of a person, and so is not dealt with by anything I have said here. (No it's not. There are very clear arguments for the personhood of the unborn, which I will probably delve into soon.)
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