A Defense of Abortion

I read JJ Thomson’s ‘A Defense of Abortion’ and I didn’t know what to respond to be honest.

She argues that even if the fetus is a person then abortion is still morally permissible and then she proceeds to explain some thought experiments and I just got lost. I don’t know how she can conclude that based on the imaginary scenarios.

Here’s the paper:
This is a wikipedia article about the paper.

With the caveat that I’m not the best at arguing…

These are examples I’ve heard before. A reading of ‘persuasive pro life’ by Trent Horn is a good way to get your mind around these examples.

The examples she gives are ones I’ve heard before, and all either ignore or minimize one’s personal agency in the vast majority of pregnancies.

One chose to have sex. Sex is the biological means of having babies. When you take on the idea of having sex you take on the risk, and responsibility, of potentially creating babies.

For the horrific instances of rape or incest, we still have an issue because we have a human being with a right to life vs. a human being who has been traumatized who doesn’t want to deal with further trauma. It’s a horrific, evil situation but life > trauma. And further we don’t know that killing the baby will make the person feel any better, vs. now being a party to the ending of a life.

The only thing that holds any water for me is the ‘expanding baby’ idea, as that (in my mind) aligns closer to an ectopic pregnancy (with the exception that the expanding baby will leave healthy). But in that instance you may have the principle of double effect kick in.

She is famous for the “Violinist” argument, which has its own problems.

The thinking behind this is stupidity desperate for some kind of affirmation as deep thought. I sometimes think people believe that stupidity will become believable the more convoluted it is. It’s the John Travolta of philosophy: “see how fancy I can dance!”

These things can be hard to respond to because the shocking stupidity of it is so offensive to reason that you must think for a second outside the bounds of common sense to address it.

“Arguments” like violinist argument should not be given the time of day. They have faulty premises and so lead to nonsense banter.

And when you think about it:
The fact that a person feels the need to throw out a strange hypothetical to illuminate the moral decision making behind abortion demonstrates that you have in fact run out of moral courage.


It’s a baby.

I just can’t believe the rationalizations pro abortion people use to circumvent the basic truth that aborting a baby is killing a baby. It’s hardwired in us to protect babies; a basic instinct that’s a part of our good nature that God created.

Man, these pro choice people sicken me.


Here’s how abortion was sold to the American people and media.


Wow!! This makes me really angry!!

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The doctor is correct in part that one human being does not have the right to life at the expense of another human being’s life. Doctor’s can’t take a healthy heart from one living human and give it to another human to save the recipient’s life.

But Jarvis is a moral philosopher, not a medical provider, and what is permissible in one field might not be permissible in another. Jarvis did not consider the 2500 year history of medical ethics when she wrote that piece.

Human beings have human rights because they are human. A human is a human, regardless of its stage of being.

A pregnant woman has her right to bodily integrity/autonomy because she is a human being. And a human zygote, a human embryo, a human fetus, and human child have the same rights as well. Bodily integrity/autonomy is also a right of a disabled human, a young adult, a middle-aged person, an elder, and even a dead human being.

Bodily integrity/autonomy still applies, even when the right to life isn’t present. Autonomy might be at a diminished capacity under such circumstances, but it still applies.

In medical ethics, doctors have the duty to respect a patient’s autonomy only to the extent that it doesn’t harm another human. Harm and risk of harm (non maleficence) must be outweighed by giving benefit (beneficence) to the patient.

Even if a living mother wanted a surgeon to remove her heart to save her child’s life, the a transplant team wouldn’t perform such a procedure because of the harm that would be done to her.

Ethical doctors don’t discriminate based on a human being’s stage of existence.
Surgeons require authorizations of informed consent from a pregnant woman, for herself and for her fetus, when they do fetal surgery. (That proves that there is a level of legal protection that is granted toward the autonomy of the fetus).
Also, surgeons don’t automatically harvest organs from a brain-dead patient. Protocols and authorizations must be met before the surgical transplant team is authorized to touch such a patient.

Autonomy, non maleficence, beneficence, and justice are demanded of physicians and must be considered in all circumstances of care.

When it comes to elective abortion, philosophers might deem it morally permissible, but honorable physicians can’t. Elective abortion fails to consider the most important ethical principles in patient care and isn’t basic healthcare because it goes against medical ethics.

Elective abortion opposes the ethical principle autonomy because it acts on a patient’s choice to bring harm (death) to another human. It violates the principle of non maleficence by destroying another human. And elective abortion ultimately violates the principle of justice, because it fails to give the early stage human what it is due: it’s right to be let alone and have its bodily integrity/autonomy intact so it can develop its full potential.

The only time abortion can be medically ethical is when it falls in the realm of medical necessity where the benefit outweighs harm in consideration of justice and autonomy.

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Bodily autonomy comes off as special pleading at times.

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Yes it does. And with elective abortion, a patient is asking a physician to disregard the ethical balance of harm, benefit, and justice for the sake of autonomy. A physician must respect patient autonomy, but not to the exclusion of harm, benefit, and justice.

The right to bodily autonomy arises at the point of deciding whether or not to have sex. Not at the point of murdering the resultant child.


Excellent. I read Dr. Nathanson’s book a number of years ago “The Hand of God.” he became a devout Catholic
in his later years before he passed away!

In medical ethics, a person has the right to bodily autonomy to the extent that a treatment doesn’t harm another. The good of treatment has to outweigh the harm or potential risks to the patient or another. Pregnant women can have treatments that potentially harm the fetus, if it protects the health of the mother. An example of this would be the use of anti-depressants while pregnant or performing a necessary surgery, like removing a uterine polyp while she’s pregnant.

Also, removal of an ectopic pregnancy is allowable in medical ethics.

Physicians with sound medical ethics don’t perform elective abortion because the autonomy of the mother doesn’t include harm to a fetus just because she wants to terminate the pregnancy.

These arguments completely disregard the fact that pregnancy is a consequence of sex. They act as if pregnancy is the act that violated “body autonomy” rather than the choice to have sex. The argument is flawed from the start because its premise is based on the person having no choice in the matter which is clearly not the case.

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Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that the most vociferous defenders of abortion all appear to be , shall we say, beyond child-bearing years?

Actually, personal experience of a pregnancy that was ended via abortion during the time when abortion was illegal does seem to make people involved more strenuous in their feelings on the subject.

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It’s because they were the guinea pigs to the crappiest forms of the IUD, pill, and other contraceptives known to man (or should I say, woman).
Many of them knew women who died from back alley abortions or from giving birth.
They watched the American family disintegrate before their eyes.
They were told how to give birth and that they couldn’t nurse their babies in a public place.
They had to leave their children home alone after school (aka the latch key GenX kids) while they worked at jobs that paid them way less than their male counterparts.
The costs of daycare weren’t their biggest concern. Rather, it was finding a safe, healthy, clean, environment to leave their child in while they worked since many states didn’t have child care regulations in place.
Financial assistance for daycare wasn’t common outside of head Start.
They paid a heck of a lot in federal taxes and didn’t have the benefit of child tax credits, child care tax credits, nor the earned income credit.

And worst of all, they were women, so they didn’t have a voice back then.

Please, let’s not take their voices away from them now just because they are no longer child-bearing age.

They have much wisdom to bestow on younger generations.

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Makes me cry, Petra.

Nice rant! Excuse me, but a mere observation takes no one’s voice away.
If there is a problem with their voice - it is that they won’t shut up.

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