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A Defense On Abortion

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In Judith Jarvis Thompson's essay, “A Defense on Abortion”, she explains her views on the topic by outlining the most common arguments that people defend, as well as providing examples of situations that support her opinions. Thompson states her agreement or disagreement with each view on abortion and gives a reason or explanation as to why. The main arguments that she outlines are those on whether or not a fetus is a “person”, and the battle between the value of innocent life and the bodily rights of the mother. Thompson offers excellent examples, putting a new perspective on the mindsets people may take when considering abortion. Thompson also challenges the reader to answer difficult questions for themselves, rather than to lay her beliefs outright on the table.

Thompson opens her essay by saying that the common defense of most anti-abortionists is that the fetus is a person, and she says that this defense is not well argued (p. 47). She disagrees with this because she says it is impossible to draw a line between the point where a fertilized egg is not a person, and then suddenly becomes one. She compares a fetus to an acorn in such a way that you cannot really say that an acorn is an oak tree, but only that it will become one, and you can't really put a finger on that exact moment of transition. This is one of her main defenses because she argues that the entire idea of a fetus being a person or not is irrellivant in the argument about abortion. She is saying that whether or not the fetus is a person has nothing to do with the matter because that fact cannot be indefinetly proved. The fetus is alive, yes, but it is all a matter of opinion when deciding if it is a “person”. She wonders then, assuming it is true that a fetus is a person, how people jump from this conlusion to the conclusion that abortion is morally wrong.

Here enters the idea that every person has a right to life, assuming that a fetus is a person (p. 48). Thompson compares the importance of innocent life (the unborn child), to the life of the mother and her right to decide what happens to her own body. She offers the example of being plugged into a violinist against your will so that he can use your kidneys to survive. She uses this as a similarity to pregnancy in that sometimes even when people try to prevent precnancy, it happens, and they are left “plugged in” to a fetus that they must care for. In an accidental situation should someone be forced to care for another life that they didn't intend to care for? This is where Thompson begins to introduce the different views that people tend to defend. Each view has a different perspective on whether or not the fetus has a right to life.

The first is an extreme view that abortion is permissible under no circumstances and that the fetus always has a right to life over the mother. Thompson says that this is unpractical because it gives the mother no defense against this dependent growth that may possibly harm her life. Thompson seems to have a reccuring theme that anti-abortion is unjust because it gives women no choice. She emphasises that most people who have this opinion do not like to think that the mother is also a person, and that her feelings and needs also matter. This extreme view says that ending the life of an innocent child is wrong but by only letting the mother die in the case that there are complications is not really killing. Thompson disagrees with this because she says it should not be considered immoral for a mother to get an abortion to save her life, rather than sitting there waiting to die (p. 52). She includes with this the consideration of a third party's responsibility if they perform the abortion. She says that a bystander does not have a need to intervene on this matter because it is between the mother and the fetus (p.52). She says that a mother has a right to defend herself against the threat of a fetus and hence the extreme view on abortion is incorrect (p.52).

Thompson continues by arguing against the idea that no one should intervene because a woman must take full responsibility for the performance of her abortion. This is wrong in Thompson's opinion because if we say that women have the right to decide what happens to and in their body, then they grant a woman the help she would need in making such a decision (p. 54). Thompson says that the argument about a fetus being a person (or not) becomes more relevant when the pregnancy is not a risk to the mother. This is where things get tricky because people become divided on which they think is more important: the life of the fetus, or the life of the mother and her right to decide what she does with her life. The question is raised that a fetus has a right to life, but at what expense? Thompson suggests that perhaps life is not a right but something that a mother decides to give out of kindness (p.55). She says that a right to life is not necessarily the right to someone else's body, even if their body is the one thing needed for life (p. 56). Again, Thompson goes back to the example of the violinist. It would be very nice of you to let him use your kidneys, but do you have to? Then she says that not doing so may be callous or selfish, but not immoral because we all have a right to make choices.

Some people, Thompson explains, feel that a right to life is not just that but also the right not to be killed by anyone. Furthermore, it is not just the right to not



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