Tuesday, January 10, 2012


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Who has control over your body? When, if ever, is it right to terminate a pregnancy? There are so many laws and regulations that impede one to have total control over his or her own body. The most popular moral dilemma women face is dealing with the issue of abortion. Abortion is viewed in many different ways, but most women are fighting to gain more rights. Pro-life verses pro-choice is the general separation with this issue. Those who support abortion believe that the fetus is nothing more than tissue; those who oppose abortion believe that the fetus has the right to life. In “A Defense of Abortion”, Judith Jarvis Thomson, a female philosopher, tries to prove that abortion can exist within a moral code, providing numerous analogies; the environment she was surrounded by geared her on the individualistic path.

Judith Jarvis Thomson believes in individual rights. She wrote “A Defense of Abortion” in 170. In this article Thomson discusses a woman’s rights. In her book, The Realm of Rights, she discusses the importance and idea of having rights, and which ones we have. Another article, Self-Defense, discussed how everyone can and should defense themselves. Personal defense is important to Thomson.

Abortion has been a controversial topic, it is even discussed in the Bible and it is against certain religions. Around the 160s and 170s many court cases that included abortion were developed. Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, that made abortion legal in the United States, became well-known court cases. In 177 the Supreme Court “allowed states to limit the use of Medicaid funds (government assistance for health care) for payment of elective abortions�that is, those abortions not medically required”(Encarta 001)

There are many different types of abortion. There are various pills that can be used as a drug-based abortion. There tubes and medical supplies that can be used to perform abortion; a last resort is to perform a caesarian section. As more techniques developed, more people grow frustrated. Pro-life activists are not supportive of the techniques used in abortion and the timing of the pregnancies. In Adsen v. Women’s Health Center people were granted the right to protest in front of clinics.

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Women have always been inferior to men and Thomson was around during a crucial time for women. Many issues relating to women were brought up and women began to fight for their rights. In 16 the Commission on the Status of Women was approved for the Equal Pay Act. The Women’s Equity Action League (WEAL) were determined to stop discrimination against sexes in programs in schools receiving funds. The Title IX of the Higher Education Act (17) did just what they asked for. Most importantly women fought for rights of their bodies; they fought for the freedom of choice.

Thomson uses many analogies in her work. She first provides us with an example that is analogous to rape. She begins by describing a case of where a violinist is attached to someone’s kidneys. Thomson describes a situation in which, one day, someone is unexpectedly attached to another human being, who is a world famous violinist. The person is chosen by the society of music lovers because the person fits the match for the violinist, in terms of correct blood type. The violinist is attached to the person’s kidneys and would have to stay attached for nine months. Thomson presents a moral dilemma before this person. The violinist has a right to life. If one is to unplug him he will die and his right to live will no longer exist. At the same time the person has a right to make decisions about his or her own body and no one can have access to someone’s body without permission.

Every person has a right to life. So the fetus has a right to life. No doubt the mother has a right to decide what shall happen in and to her body; everyone would grant that. But surely a person’s right to life is stronger and more stringent than the mother’s right to decide what happens in and to her body, and so outweighs it. So the fetus may not be killed; an abortion may not be performed.” (740)

Here Thomson compares the violinist to a fetus and the patient to a pregnant woman. There is a debate between the life of the patient and the life of the violinist, which in a larger scheme mean the life of the woman and the life of the fetus.

Thomson continues to discuss abortion, but describes another situation. Thomson goes on to describe that there is a problem when the kidney is attached to the patient. The patience health is degrading and will continue to become worse over time. Within a month the patient will die. This is where the third person comes in. The patient asks to be detached from the violinist. The third person claims he or she cannot due such a thing because unplugging the violinist would ultimately kill him or her. This would be murder. The patient can unplug him or herself because that is simply self-defense. This new analogy is similar to a woman who is going to suffer because of the growing fetus. The woman would decide on an abortion to save her life. The fetus has a right to life, but her life and her health supercedes everything.

In order to develop the idea of the third party Thomson discusses another analogy. The third party is someone who assists in helping you follow through with your needs and helping you make a decision. Thomson describes two characters. The setting she describes is a cold environment and both men are literally freezing to death. One of the men finds a coat that will keep him warm and keep him from “freezing to death”. The other man thinks that it is unfair if he wears the jacket for a couple of reasons. First, the jacket that one man has found belongs to the other man. Second, both of the men are cold so it is not right for only one to stay warm. This is where the third person comes into the picture. The two men seek for a third person’s point of view. The third person has the right to voice his or her opinion or to simply prefer to stay silent. The third person, however, cannot prevent the men from seeking other people’s advice.

Thomson also provides cases in which no life is directly threatened. She gives an example concerning the “healing touch” of Henry Fonda. She claims that simply with Henry’s touch one can be cured of his or her disease. Henry Fonda, a famous figure, can do a simple task to save a life.

If I am sick unto death, and the only thing that will save my life is the touch of Henry Fonda’s cool hand on my fevered brow, then all the same, I have no right to be given the touch of Henry’s Fonda cool hand on my fevered brow. (Thomson 74)

Henry, however, should not be forced to “touch” the person because he has a right to decide what he wants to do. Even though it is a minor inconvenience, it is no one’s place to make that decision besides Henry’s.

Thomson does not stop with the analogies, she continues to lay out her argument by providing the chocolate example. “Suppose a boy and his small brother are jointly given a box of chocolates for Christmas”(Thomson 744). The older of the two boys deprives the other brother of the chocolates. In this situation the younger brother has an equal right to the chocolates. Thomson concludes with “the right to life consists not in the right not to be killed but in the right not to be killed unjustly”(Thomson 744). Thomson is describing the distinction between what we have a right to do and what we ought to do.

One of Thomson’s concluding arguments discusses the idea of a “Minimally Decent Samaritan.” “In most states in this country women are compelled by law to be not merely Minimally Decent Samaritans but Good Samaritans to unborn persons inside them” (Thomson 747). Thomson supports abortion and this is evident throughout Thomson’s work, but Thomson believes you have to be moral. When she refers to being a “Good Samaritan” to an unborn person inside a woman, she means that the woman should not wait too long before having an abortion. The longer she waits the more developed the person becomes.

In order to gain power a person must fight for his or her rights and that is exactly what Thomson does. Due to her society she was more aware of the issues surrounding her. She developed a strategy that attempts to justify a woman’s rights. Her analogies provide power to her arguments. Overall, the environment a person is placed in shapes their morals and beliefs and in general everyone should have control over their body.


Byrne, Alex, Stalnaker, Robert, and Wedgwood, Ralph, eds. Facts and Values Essays on Ethics ad Metaphysics for Judith Jarvis Thomson. Massachusetts Bradford Books, 001.

Judith Jarvis Thomson, “A Defense of Abortion,” Philosophy & Public Affairs, vol. 1, no. 1, 171. Copyright . � 171 by Princeton University Press by Permission of Princeton Universtity.

Thomson, Judith J., and Dworkin, Gerald, eds. Ethics. New York Harper and Row, 168.

Abortion.Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 001. � 1-000 Microsoft Corporation.

Purdy, Jen, and Byrne, Alex. “MIT Philosophy.” 00. http//web.mit.edu/philos/www/index.html

Harrison, Jim. “Reply.” Boston Review. 15. http//bostonreview.mit.edu/BR0.4/Thomson.html

Thomson, Judith. “Abortion.” Boston Review. 15.


Kenny, Mike. “Judith Thomson.” 000. http//www.geocities.com/lord-leachim/philosophy/thomson.html

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