Have than the “common man”1. A doctor is

you ever had a moment that you were so infuriated by someone’s words and
actions, you are unsure what you were going to do? You want to stand up and
pick the fight, even if you are uncertain how it’s going to end. I believe that
Thomson is having one of those moments, where she is infuriated by the actions
of pro-life activists and their attempt to misconstrue facts in order to reach
their end goal. Their end goal being of course having the woman keep the baby
and diminishing the right to an abortion. Thomson strategizes that by granting
the opponents premises, primarily for the argument’s sake, abortion is morally
permissible. She begins by discussing how pro-life activists define the point
where life begins– in which she determines that personhood does not begin upon
conception– and quickly moves on to the “right to life”1 and privileges
that are therefore granted. She attempts to sway viewer’s that pro-life
activists have no moral standing and that by attacking the premises that
fetuses are persons and persons have a right to life, therefore abortion is
morally permissible. Thomson’s main argument revolves around the difference
between a “right to life”1 and the right to use someone else’s body–
primarily how the two are not interdependent on the other.  The idea of consent also plays a role within
Thomson’s argument.

            A man, a woman, a child, an infant,
and a fetus all have something in common with each other. According to Thomson,
“every person has a right to life” (Thomson 128). Although this is considered
“common knowledge”1, the audience is forced to analyze the moral
implications exploited within these seven words. First, the “person”1
must be defined as to when a person’s life begins and where it ceases. This
quickly becomes a grey area. Does a person’s life begin when they’re conceived?
Does a person’s life end when brain activity ceases? What if their heart is
still beating? A doctor may answer differently than the “common man”1.

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A doctor is more likely to give a textbook definition, whereas a “common man”1
is far more likely to give an opinion-based response. Secondly, the
“right to life”1 is considered a “negative right”1– “a
right to be left alone, to be free from the interference of others to act
autonomously” (Veatch 70). Thomson is not trying to demonstrate that people can
do whatever they please, but to demonstrate that all the “negative right”1
seems to cover in this case is the right to not be killed unjustly. She states,
“In some views having a right to life includes having a right to be given at
least the bare minimum one needs for continued life. But suppose that what in
fact is the bare minimum a man needs for continued life is something he has no
right at all to be given?… nobody has the right against you that you shall
give him this right” (Thomson 131). Thomson decides that, for the sake of
argument, we shall just say a fetus is a human, since it does not matter to the
surrounding argument– this is because the fetus does not have the right to use
the mother’s body. The fetus’s “right to life”1 and the right to use
someone else’s body are not interdependent on the other.

            The first premise Thomson chooses to
grant is that the “fetus is a person from the moment of conception” (Thomson 128).

She defends the permissibility of abortion though through the violinist case. Thomson
states, “You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in a bed
with an unconscious violinist… He has been found to have a fatal kidney
ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available
medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help.

They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist’s circulatory
system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract
poisons from his blood as well as your own… To unplug you would be to kill him…
it’s only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and
can safely be unplugged from you” (Thomson 128). This analogy is used as part
of her strategy to exemplify the absurd views pro-life activists believe. She
forces the audience to consider if the woman has any moral obligation to keep
the man alive. If so, does it matter that the woman was involuntarily put into
that situation? Through the potential limits on the “right to life”1–
given that the “right to life”1 does not include the right to use
someone else’s body for your own personal gain– you can permissibly remove
yourself from the violinist. It is your right to do so and Thomson would argue
that “if you do allow him to go on using your kidneys, this is a kindness on
your part, and not something he can claim from you as his due” (Thomson 131). When
this is applied to a mother and a fetus, it is argued that the fetus’s “right
to life”1 is not violated for the same reason the violinist’s “right
to life”1 isn’t– the fetus is merely deprived of the use of the
woman’s body. One potential criticism to the violinist case is that it can
justify abortion only in cases of rape, as the woman was kidnapped and did not
consent to having the violinist plugged in. It is understood that generally
when a woman decides upon an abortion, it is due to a voluntary act. I believe that
Thomson’s violinist case can be applied to various cases of abortion, both
voluntary and involuntary. The consent is not what drafts this example, but the
idea that the violinist does not have a right to use another’s body for
personal gain. Another potential criticism to this case is that the violist is
a stranger, whereas the fetus is the woman’s flesh and blood. The fetus has
never been met and therefore is a stranger as well, using the woman as a vessel
does not make you any more known than the violinist.

            The next premise Thomson argues
against is that “If she voluntarily called it into existence, how can she now
kill it” (Thomson 132). The term “voluntarily”1 can be easily
misconstrued and Thomson demonstrates this with a “people-seeds”1
example. Thomson states, “people-seeds drift about in the air like pollen, and
if you open your windows, one may drift in and take root in your carpets or
upholstery. You don’t want children so you fix up your windows with fine mesh
screens the very best you can buy. As it happens, however, and on very, very
rare occasions does happen, one of the screens is defective, and a seed drifts
in and takes root” (Thomson 133). In this analogy, the screens exemplify the
contraception a woman would use if she did not want “people-seeds”1–a
fetus– residing in her house– the woman’s body. She took every possible
course of action to protect herself– except maybe abstinence– and a “people-seed”1
still manages to get through. She should still be able to get rid of the “people-seeds”1
if one gets in and states that “after all you could have lived out your life
with bare floors and furniture, or with sealed windows and doors. But this won’t
do – for by the same token anyone can avoid a pregnancy due to rape by having a
hysterectomy, or anyways by never leaving home without a (reliable!) army”
(Thomson 133). This is a bit extreme, but it raises the main issue on what
defines abortions as an unjust killing. One potential criticism to this example
is that “people-seeds”1 are an absurd representation of how a
typical pregnancy works. It is just that though, a typical pregnancy analogy.

It may have some absurd details, but that is used to demonstrate the potential
extreme lengths one would be willing to go to in order to not conceive a child.

            In regards to abortion, Thomson
states, “we are told that performing the abortion would be directly killing the
child, whereas doing nothing would not be killing the mother, but only letting
her die” (Thomson 129). Killing someone or letting someone die can cause severe
emotional distress on the person performing the act, but within Thomson’s
statement, the audience is forced to analyze what they would do if put in that
situation. Would you rather kill the child or would you rather kill the mother?
Most would choose to choose the child, since the mother would still be alive to
have more children, but if you disagree with abortion in any circumstance, then
the choice is made. A “mother’s sacrifice”1 for the child would be
made, so that the child had every opportunity to pursue a long and healthy
life, even if it meant her own demise. Some mothers may choose this “greater
good”1, but having society dictate what is the appropriate course of
action can lead to a stir. Thomson uses this argument, not to necessarily
change topics to killing and letting die, but to demonstrate the pro-life
activist’s idea that they can determine what the foremost right is
impermissible. One potential criticism is that abortion directly and
intentionally kills the fetus, whereas– as I mentioned in the violinist
example– unplugging the violinist merely lets him die of natural causes. The
differentiation between killing and letting die is not what Thomson is
discussing in this article though. Her argument is drafted around abortion and
the moral argument of killing and letting die should not hold any factors
within the oppositional debate.

            Is the “greater good”1
always permissible though? Most of the time what society dictates to be correct
is what is to be taken as the foremost right. The problem is that society is
known to make many exceptions to when abortion is to be considered morally
permissible. Thomson states, “They can say that persons have a right to life
only if they didn’t come into existence because of rape; or they can say that
all persons have a right to life, but that some have less of a right to life
than others, in particular, that those who came into existence because of rape”
(Thomson 128). During this argument, Thomson tries to demonstrate to the
audience how pro-life activists can create a “barrier”1 in order to
distance themselves from a scenario in which a woman is impregnated through
rape. The woman had no choice in the matter if the man forced himself upon her.

Thomson tries to point out that abortion has quickly become an “if and only if”1
scenario, in which what would not normally be considered morally permissible
has swayed and quickly become permissible by altering some of the factors.

Thomson does quite well in this argument by ruling out what others may negate.

By using an “if and only if”1 scenario, she allows the audience to
determine deniability in each argument pro-life activists may have drafted in
regards to rape victims. If they are so quickly swayed by a single factor, what
standing do they truly have? Thomson moves on to state, “Nor do they make an
exception for a case in which the mother has to spend the nine months of her
pregnancy in bed. They would agree that would be a great pity, and hard on the
mother, but at the same time, all persons have a right to life” (Thomson 128).

Similar to the last quote, Thomson tries to exemplify another situation in
which abortion would be considered morally permissible. Thomson argues, quite
favorably, that expecting someone to stay on bed rest for such an incredible
time span is a bit absurd to ask of someone. If they would like to choose that
for themselves, so be it, but forcing someone to stay bedridden for so long is
not something that should be asked of anyone. In both of these examples,
Thomson’s strategy is to attack the conclusion, but to grant the premises. By
granting the premises, it is one less argument that needs to occur. For both of
the examples, the premises do not align with the conclusion. So, if her
analysis is correct, her opponent must demonstrate to the audience that
abortion is an unjust killing.

the entirety of the Thomson reading on abortion, Thomson discusses what she
considers to be a human right. She argues against pro-life counterparts to
“heighten”1 the pro-choice viewpoint. She believes that everyone has
a right to life– or at least a right to not be killed unjustly–, but there
are limitations to that right given certain circumstances and that given the
circumstance, the woman should be given the right to choose to have an
abortion. Thomson even demonstrates this by depicting scenarios in which
abortion would be considered morally permissible and granting pro-life
activists premises. By granting their premises, it forces pro-life activists to
demonstrate that abortion is an unjust killing.


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