Thomson: A Defense of Abortion

hello everyone welcome to another installment of the introductory lecture series as always I’m professor Zaldivar and today we’ll be talking about Judith Jarvis Thomson’s essay on abortion to begin the discussion I want to point out that there’s a sort of underlying principle that Thompson is making use of throughout her discussion which is […]

hello everyone welcome to another installment of the introductory lecture series as always I’m professor Zaldivar and today we’ll be talking about Judith Jarvis Thomson’s essay on abortion to begin the discussion I want to point out that there’s a sort of underlying principle that Thompson is making use of throughout her discussion which is to say that she highly values the principle of autonomy or the rights of autonomy we saw this before in the essay on drug use or the illegality of drugs and prohibition of drugs and when someone values the right of autonomy what they’re saying is that adults are very much entitled to doing things doing whatever they’d like and to having complete control over their own body keep that in mind as this discussion continues because you’ll be able to see how it impacts your position okay so her argument basically starts with the willingness to take on an initial claim that the initial claim that nothing can be done to end a fetus’s life in other words abortion is impermissible even to save the mother under all circumstances it is wrong to terminate a pregnancy now there’s a response to this which is namely doesn’t anyone have the right to defend themselves in the face of impending death so if someone is attacking you don’t you have the right to defend yourself and if you can only defend yourself by killing them then doesn’t that give you the right to kill them don’t we just call this self-defense and the answer seems to be yes that is what we call self-defense and yes people do have a right to protect their own life and while it’s regrettable and no one wants to if protecting your life can only be accomplished by killing someone else then you are morally entitled to kill the person well in the case of some pregnancies due to complications and health risks the mother’s life is indeed in danger the pregnancy is potentially fatal and sometimes definitely will be fatal to the mother so the mother’s life is in danger doesn’t she have a right to protect her life by cause by having an abortion Thompson uses the example of expanding of an expanding baby to illustrate this point so if you think that’s right or if you agree with her notice sometimes students will say well but the baby is innocent as we will see in the Jain English discussion whether a person is innocent or not actually doesn’t have very much impact on the question of self defense okay so assuming you you are on board with the argument so far or at least you’re following along you might think okay the initial position simply needs to be amended and now we can argue that nothing can be done to end if it is life unless the mother’s life is at risk however no third party can interfere which is to say the question of self defense and the morality of defense only applies the only people who can act are the mother and a fetus no one else can go in there because both the mother and fetus have an equal right to claim and when two people have equal rights then there’s no way to decide one two there’s no moral way to justify favoring one over the other because they have equal rights but Thompson says their response could be offered but certainly third parties are able to interfere if one of the two original parties has a just claim or has a more deserving claim in other words if two people having a dispute and they have absolutely equal rights that no one else can come in and pick one over the other person because the two people are equal in their standing but if the two people in dispute have unequal rights is more deserving or more correcting the other one then of course the third party can come in and side with the more deserving person so for example if a friend and I are walking down the street and we find a jacket and we both want to pick it up and we both want to take it home and we get into a fight over and a police officer shows up he has really no way of deciding who should get the jacket right because we both found it it doesn’t belong to either one of us originally we both have equal right to claim it now if I’m wearing a jacket and it’s my jacket and I put it on and leave my house and I’m walking along the street with my friend and my friend decides that he wants my jacket I’m trying to take it from me and we get into a fight over it and a police officer shows up clearly the police officer has the ability in fact has the obligation to stop the fight and to give me back my jacket in other words we’re in the first situation the officer has no way of knowing the way of deciding who should keep the jacket in the second situation the officer has a clear way of deciding who should give the jacket the original owner me so in the case of an abortion if we have two people with equal rights to life the mother and the fetus how can we decide who gets to live some people might say you can’t no one else can no one no one else has the ability to jump in at once or the other but then you say but the mother also has a right to her own body to use her body as she sees fit and so therefore she has an extra right she not only has the right to life which she has also not just the fetuses right to life they both have rights life she also has a right the right of autonomy the right to use her body and so therefore a doctor has a reason to interfere to protect her rights she in fact in this case has greater rights has more rights in play than the fetus so we have to amend ëget we have to amend the claim again but Thompson’s antagonists Knights to my say still this only justifies abortion if the mother’s life is at risk so if we grant that if the mother’s life is at risk she’s entitled to an abortion to protect her life and she entitled to it she’s entitled to assistance by doctors to protect her autonomy then this all this is true but only if the mother’s life is at risk and if the mother’s life is not at risk then it looks like she has no moral standing to have an abortion there’s of course a response to this the basic statement of response is no one has a right to force someone else to use their body in some way so in other words I don’t have a right to force someone else to use their body in a way that they don’t want to so consider that let’s say I have an unusual disease and I need Tom Cruise to put his forehead his hand on my forehead in order to save me well I deserve to live I have a right to life putting his hand on my forehead will not risk Tom Cruise life in any way would not be harmful to him in any way so some people might say I deserve to live and therefore Tom Cruise should put his hand on my forehead but if Tom Cruise doesn’t want to then I don’t have a right to kidnap him or to force him to put his hand on my forehead to force him to use his body in some way that I’m not comfortable with so a fetus even if a fetus is entitled to life I’m certainly every living thing is entitled to life it is not entitled to force a mother to use her body in a way that she does not want to and because of this it could be argued that abortion is basically always justified because anytime a woman wants to end the pregnancy forcing her to continue with the pregnancy would force her to use her body in a way that she doesn’t want to now sometimes we can respond to this by saying well the woman chose to have sex and she knew what the consequences were and so she can’t abandon her consequences after the fact for example when you go gambling and you put down some money you know you could lose it and if you lose the bet you don’t get to say oh I changed my mind I want to keep my money when you have unprotected sex you know you could get pregnant and when you do get pregnant you don’t get to say oh I changed my mind I don’t want my body to be used in this way and this is a sort of compelling an intuitively appealing line of argument the problem is that it conflates causal and more responsibility to the difference between saying I took I did certain things to put myself in a position to have something happen to me and being morally responsible for what happens to me I’ll give you some quick examples if I take a shower and fall down and break my head and die I have causal responsibility for that right in other words I chose to take a shower I got into the shower I turned on the water I took a step you know I did all the things that I needed that put me in a position to slip and fall so I’m positively responsible but am i morally responsible it doesn’t look like it it looks like I didn’t commit suicide there again another quick example let’s say I am driving my car and I’m good about up key but my car is well-maintained and there’s no mechanical problems as far as I know and I’m driving my car and I lose control of it through no fault of my own and I ram into another car and cause a person in that car to die I’m causally responsible for that there at least partially causally responsible for that death because I got in my car and I drove down the street and I chose to do these things and if I hadn’t done these things I would not have been in a position to ram the other car but I’m not morally responsible right I didn’t just commit murder so someone who has sex in a way which is intended to prevent pregnancy for example using protection contraception maybe multiple forms contraception would seem to bear some causal responsibility for a pregnancy right for Ana for unintentional pregnancy clearly they chose to have sex etc but it doesn’t look like they intended to get pregnant doesn’t look like they have more responsibility in other words getting pregnant when you’re trying not to seems to be a lot like falling in your bathroom because after all no one everyone going into a bathroom knows that they’re taking a risk in their life in their own hands the bathroom is the place is this is the greatest has the highest number of deaths of any room in the household it’s the place you’re most likely to die you’re inside your own house so everyone knows you step into the bathroom you’re stepping into a kill zone but no one wants to die when they do it and we don’t hold them morally responsible so if you’re having sex but you don’t want to get pregnant and you’re being responsible trying to avoid it using contraception etc then it looks like it could be argued that’s a little weird to hold you morally responsible alright that concludes our Thompson lecture do as always go read the essay because there’s a lot more information in there than I have time to cover in these lectures thanks very much for listening

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