Responding to a pro-abortion argument that concedes the humanity of the unborn

I noticed a new article up at about a pro-abortion argument that is defended by top pro-abortion scholars. The interesting part about this argument is that they concede the full humanity and personhood of the unborn child.

I’ll let the article explain it:

Spend any amount of time talking about abortion, and you’re likely to hear a variation of the following scenario:

You wake up one morning in bed next to a famous Violinist, who has been connected to you surgically by the Society of Music Lovers. The Violinist has a fatal kidney ailment, and without your bodily support, he will die. The doctor at the hospital informs you that after nine months, the Violinist will have recovered to a point he will no longer need your body for support.

Now, you have a choice to make. You could stay hooked up to this Violinist, and it may very well be good of you to do so, but is it just for the law to compel you to do so? Most people would say no, which raises a further question: What about a woman who becomes pregnant? Is it just for the law to require her to stay attached to a person to sustain their life against her will?

The above scenario is a paraphrase of an argument first made in an essay by philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson in 1971, titled “A Defense of Abortion”. The argument has gone on to appear in countless forms, and has been updated and defended by philosophers such as Eileen McDonagh and David Boonin.

Thomson’s argument is strong for a couple of reasons. First, she asks the reader to put themselves in the position of a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy, something everyone, pro-life or pro-choice, should be willing to do. It’s easier to see abortion as a sort of abstract topic without actually thinking of how we would feel if we were to find ourselves in the same position.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, Thomson reframes the argument over abortion by conceding a central element of the pro-life argument: The unborn entity in question could very well be a valuable member of the human family, a “person”, as Thomson argues.

And it doesn’t matter. In the view of Thomson(as well as McDonagh and Boonin) just because someone is a human being with intrinsic value in virtue of their humanity, that does not give them the right to use the body(or bodily tissues and organs) of another person to sustain their own life. This line of argument has become very popular in online as well as in-person discussions over the past year, with pro-life arguments dismissed offhand as ultimately irrelevant. A common assertion online goes like this: It doesn’t matter if abortion kills a life, because no one has the right to use your body without your consent.

Thomson’s argument, and others in the same manner, succeed if the analogies employed can demonstrate the moral principles at play in the decision to get an abortion are similar or the same to the other analogous scenarios.

The article lists a whole bunch of problems with the argument. Before you click through to read it, think about what you would say to the argument. How is the position of the violinist different from the position of the unborn child? How is the position of the violinist’s unwilling donor different from the position of the unborn child? Is having a disease the same as being conceived by the decisions of adults? I made a list of problems, but the list of problems in the article was longer than mine!

16 thoughts on “Responding to a pro-abortion argument that concedes the humanity of the unborn”

  1. Having trouble finding the document referenced in today’s article ( Is there a direct link by chance?

    Thanks! Always enjoy what you have to say.
    Sue Klopfenstein
    University of Iowa – Ratio Christi Chapter

    Sent from my iPhone

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Honestly, when it comes to abortion I’ve lost my tolerance for hypotheticals. I had an abortion when I was a teenager and it will haunt me for the rest of my life. The moment that baby detached is a horror unlike anything I can describe. It was death, and murder. Anyone who believes in human rights should stop parroting Planned Parenthood slogans and really examine the life of a fetus. They are remarkable little beings.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. The problem I have with the violinist argument is not that it’s some sort of “gotcha”, but that it is so utterly illogical and stupid, I can’t believe anyone would even use it.


  4. One tactic is to ask the person bringing up the violinist why wouldn’t that logic also apply to child support? Even more so? (Instead of 9 months with the violinist, you’re trapped for 18 years!)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I made a video about this argument and some other philosophers who have made similar arguments (Eileen McDonough, David Boonin, etc.) in my Abortion and Libertarianism video series. There’s a lot that could be said, but I think the most important difference is that the violinist scenario describes a passive vs. an active killing. In Thompson’s scenario, you are only justified in detaching yourself from the violinist, the result being that he dies from a previously existing condition for which you are not responsible. However, even if you were justified in detaching yourself from the violinist, you would not be justified in slicing all his body parts off or poisoning him to death, which is exactly what abortion is.

    Abortion on the grounds that the child does not have an inherent right to its mother’s body is more akin to a private plane owner claiming his passengers have no inherent right to be on his plane and he can therefore toss them out mid-flight without a parachute. Even if true, the fact that someone does not inherently have the right to your property does not in and of itself give you the right to violently kill them. At best, the woman is only justified in asking the unborn to leave her body in the most expedient way possible, which is of course, to gestate for 9 months and then be born.

    But as an aside, are you seriously prepared to argue that a woman has no more obligation to her own child than she does to a total stranger?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Regarding the last part, its horrifying that people who make this argument cannot see that.

      For me the scary part is that the child is there as a result of the mothers choice. Where is the taking responsibility for your actions?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I would even consede that if my laziness in not doing a basic thing had caused the violinist to be in that state then I have less issue with nine months to save their life

    It is not like preventing pregnancy is actually difficult. Protection for sex is readily available, and people are aware that they are committing the act. You don’t just accidentally end up doing it.

    I consider it demeans women to claim they are incapable of saying no or using protection.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Its frightening to me that they are this anxious not to take responsibility for their actions. As for men who have sex before they have made a commitment to raise kids, I don’t think women should even talk to such low character men.


      1. Women should avoid men like this.

        Of course I am sure we find the acceptance of these kinds of views by those professing to be Christians as the most troubling.

        I assume those that are in rebellion to God will make a lot of bad choices, but the fact that we have many of those people in the church now and they are now judging the church members is scary.

        Everything always goes too far. We go from having ungodly condemnation of people that mad mistakes. Where people in church gossip and look down ona girl that got pregnant in the past. But now it is just ok for them to get pregnant, abort and go back to that lifestyle in opposition to God.


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