Abortion is a controversial topic that many people have been debating about recently, since it has become safer for women to have abortions with medical advancements. But while divisive debate has created two platforms, pro-life and pro-choice, people have not focused enough on the variety of opinions that make up each platform, and the possibility that these opinions can clash with one another.
One popular stance taken by pro-choice activists is seen in the words of Susan Sherwin. Sherwin, a feminist pro-choice activist, believes that abortion should be seen as a valid choice that women could decide to make, regardless of the reasons why they decide to do so. However, the more conservative proponents of the pro-choice stance do not agree that abortion is acceptable in all cases.
Judith Jarvis Thomson, a moral philosopher, disagrees:
“There are some cases in which the unborn person has the right to the use of its mother’s body, and therefore some cases in which abortion is unjust killing”.
She argues that while abortion should be available, it is only acceptable in the case that the pregnancy was a result of rape or that the pregnancy is physically dangerous to the mother. Thomson, considering that the fetus also has a right to life just as much as the mother has her own rights, bases her position off of an analogy she makes, comparing pregnancy toa person being kidnapped and waking up to find herself in a hospital, with a famous violinist plugged into her kidneys. The violinist is dying, and can only live if he remains connected to the kidnapped person’s kidneys.
It is “morally indecent” to detach oneself from the violinist, according to Thomson, when the connection to the violinist does not threaten the kidnapped person’s life or health. To demonstrate this, Thomson suggests the hypothetical situation in which the violinist would be able to live after only an hour of being connected to the kidnapped person. Furthermore, the kidnapped person would leave the hospital healthy, with no adverse physical affects of the ordeal. In this case, Thomson says that the kidnapped person should stay and help the violinist, and that if she leaves, she is “greedy, stingy, [and] callous” for doing so. On the other hand, when a woman is physically threatened by being connected to the violinist, and may die, she is not being immoral when detaching herself to save her own life.
Thomson’s arguments seem to be reasonable, as many people would agree that if the hospitalization was very short and left no effect on the woman after the ordeal, it would be nice of her to help the violinist. However, it is clear that Thomson’s arguments are faulty: though her analogy provides a useful way to objectively view the issue of abortion, she interprets the analogy incorrectly. Thomson assumes that if a woman is pregnant and is not being physically threatened by the pregnancy, that keeping the baby will be very easy and will not affect the woman much at all: she compares this kind of pregnancy to staying with a violinist for only an hour. But pregnancy is not that simple, and is not as easy on women as Thomson suggests. Women often experience many physical effects, including nausea, soreness, fatigue, and digestive and urinary issues. Furthermore, they can experience burdens to their lives throughout their pregnancy that are not physical: women can lose opportunities to have higher education, can experience difficulties continuing or securing jobs, and may also encounter emotional and familial issues as a result of being
To apply these situations to the violinist analogy, consider that the kidnapped person finds herself connected to the violinist at a time that is extremely important for her education. This is a completely plausible situation, as studies have shown that young mothers not only are less likely to receive college degrees but also are less likely to even complete high school. In present society, education can be critical in determining a person’s financial stability in the future. In reality, a large percentage of women who have abortion stated that interference with education was part of their reasons behind their decision, and more than forty percent spoke of financial issues that accompanied this. If she will miss her opportunity to have or finish her education during the time that she is in the hospital, and may even be risking the stability of her future by staying in the hospital, is it really indecent for the woman to leave the violinist? What if this woman also has to support her existing family, or has to pay off debts? Do the fetus’s rights mean that the woman should have to acquiesce to any and all negative affects that she may be faced with as a result of the hospitalization?
In this situation, it cannot be assumed that the woman’s decision to depart from the hospital is unjust: just as a women is not unjust when she acts to protect herself physically, she cannot be considered immoral for protecting certain aspects of her life or future. Clearly, pregnancies can present women with significant burdens in their lives, even if these burdens or effects are not necessarily physical, as seen in the education example above. These non-physical effects could change a woman’s life just as strongly as the physical effects that Thomson describes, and the wide variety of these non-physical effects complicate pregnancies, making them far from the easy one-hour pregnancy of Thomson’s analysis.
Thomson’s analogy proves not that abortion should be limited to certain situations, but actually supports that as there are many reasons why women might choose abortions, these reasons are completely valid. Thomson’s argument that abortions are only morally acceptable in certain circumstances is therefore faulty, as women have many other valid reasons that could lead them to have abortions. Thus, it is clear that Sherwin’s argument is the stronger of these two, and that women should be allowed to have abortions in general, especially as they are the only ones who truly know and understand the extent of impact the non-physical effects of pregnancy could have on them.