Abortion has been a vastly debated topic. There are many things to consider and two sides to choose from. Does a woman have the right to abortion? The stage at which a fetus becomes a person would justify when abortion is morally acceptable. But where do we draw the line? What factors come into play to determine such a time?
Judith Jarvis Thomson, the author of the article “A Defense of Abortion,” argues that even though a fetus is a person from the moment of conception a woman still has the right to abortion (1 Thomson, CC2005, p 0046). She gives a hypothetical situation in order to help rethink the morality of abortion. She uses this hypothetical situation to conclude that aborting a fetus is not murder and it does not follow that it should be in any way be considered murder.
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Where to draw the line is also a highly debated topic and she states the most people would draw the line at the moment of conception but this conclusion does not follow. She continues on about how the same thing could be said about an acorn turning into an oak tree and that the two things are nothing alike just as an embryo is not a person (2 Thomson, CC2005, p 0046).
Suppose a normal person was suddenly kidnapped one day and put in a hospital bed where she has been linked to a stranger. She is the only person with the right blood type to help. The stranger is a famous violinist who is having kidney failure and needs the kidneys of this innocent woman. If she chooses to save the life of this violinist she must stay in the hospital next to him for nine months. (3 Thomson, CC2005, p 0048) Thomson relates this situation to the case of rape.
The innocent woman would be the victim of rape and the violinist is the fetus from the result of rape. This puts the woman in the situation of deciding whether or not she should stay in bed for nine months to save this violinist. Pro-life argues that she should stay in bed and save this man’s life because she can and it would murder is she unplugged herself from him.
Thomson argues the point of obligation. Even though all persons have a right to life, and to decide what happens or does not happen to his/her body. She is not obligated to save his life because it was not her fault that he has kidney failure so if she were to reject the procedure she shouldn’t be blamed for the murder.
Similar to abortion even though the fetus was a person with a right to life, it wasn’t the woman’s fault or choice for the fetus’s conception. She has every right to life and control of her own body and feels no connection to this person, stranger, growing inside her and is not obligated to save his life. Also, the violinist has no right to use her body to save him simply because she has control over her own body and he can’t force her to save him.
However pro-life might argue that hypothetical situations do not follow simply because they are completely different cases. The stranger has no connection whatsoever to the woman while a fetus is part of the woman, growing inside her, sharing half of her genetic code (4 Noonan, CC2005, p 0182). But Thomson would argue that in the case of rape the woman would not feel any connection to the fetus simply because it was a traumatic experience and a third party has no right to have an opposition to the abortion. The fetus does not have any right to use the woman’s body to stay alive and if she had an abortion she had not violated anyone’s right to life because she is not mentally involved in this pregnancy.
Her analogies are not solely revolved around rape. She poses another situation to help rethink the case in which the mother’s health or life is in danger because of the fetus. (5 Thomson, CC2005, p 0049) There are only 2 people involved in this situation, the mother and the fetus. Both are innocent but in this case, the fetus is threatening the life of the mother but not by any of their faults. Pro-life would argue to not abort the fetus because it is murder and immoral even though the life of the mother is in danger. That on its own is murder because it could be said that the fetus is murdering the mother. So Thomson states that third parties, believers in pro-life, should not intervene and it should be the choice of the person being threatened, the mother.
However, John Noonan, the author of “How to Argue About Abortion,” criticizes Thomson’s method and other methods as well. He argues that using analogies to reason abortion is unreliable. He states that the correct way to deal with the case of abortion is through the perception or sense of experience, and that actually experiencing the situation in person is the only way to know what is at stake and what to consider. Through perception, all the answers will be clear because it allows people to use their own moral judgment to decide whether abortion is right or wrong.
He criticizes Thomson’s method in that the victim has no bond to the violinist at all because they are unrelated they are strangers to each other. It is disgusting to relate a kidnapping and choice of convenience to pregnancy. He interprets her violinist situation as being human does not mean having to respect another person’s right to live in a case where it becomes inconvenient. He is appalled that this hypothetical situation could be accepted as an example of how a mother would make a choice. To show a real-life situation that he thinks is closer to the situation of a pregnant mother than that of Thomson’s he includes in his article a court case. In Nebraska, a cattle buyer, Orlando Depue, was invited to dine with a family of farmers, the Plateaus. After dinner, he became weak and sick and asked the Flateaus if he could spend the night.
The family refused and left him in the cold after he had fainted from sickness. Depue then sued the family after he had lost some fingers to frostbite. The judge stated that the family was not bound by any legal contract to let Depue stay overnight, however, humanity imposed that they do so because of his condition (6.Noonan, CC2005, p 0182). By presenting this court case he suggests that what the judge determined was what humanity is required to do in a real-life situation because he used his own human perception and moral judgment to decide on the case.
He states that this case is much more similar to abortion than the violinist analogy because Depue was a poor defenceless sick man who needed the Flateau’s home and kindness for shelter and survival. As a fetus is poor and defenceless needing a mother’s womb for protection and survival. The Flateau’s throwing Depue out into the cold where he was frostbitten and lost his fingers is similar to a mother aborting her pregnancy leaving the fetus defenceless and out in the cold. A mother that would do that to her fetus is unacceptable and inhumane because she is obligated to keep this fetus alive and well inside her womb because she can and is required to do so (7.Noonan, CC2005, p 0182). But what if keeping the fetus in her womb would threaten the life of the mother? How can perception or sense experience solve this problem when the values at stake are both the lives of the mother and the fetus?
Noonan would look at the situation and determine what is at stake such as the mother’s choice and how the fetus was conceived and how far along the fetus is. Does the mother want to go through with the pregnancy risking her own life? Of course, pro-life mothers would choose to go through with the pregnancy despite their death. They would think of it as giving life since the fetus is the base of life they would be prepared to die.
Then that would solve the problem of who to save and who knows there might be a chance that the mother will survive and there wouldn’t have to be a loss of either life. That is how he would validate his belief. He feels it is a mistake to abort a fetus in any situation be it rape or a physical deformity. It is all emotion that is stopping this fetus from living life. It may be hard to go through having a child that will forever be a product of rape or is physically deformed. It is still tougher on the fetus if the fetus were a person too; aborting would not solve any problem but would solely result in the death of the fetus (8.Noonan, CC2005, p 0182).
If the mother, whose life is at risk if she went through with the pregnancy, decides to abort at what point can we draw the line? When is it ok to abort a fetus? Noonan states that there are too many stages at which people adopt it as a line. When they do draw a line at a certain stage they are asked why draw it there and not earlier or why not a little later? The fact that there is never one real answer to where the line is to be drawn is because someone would only draw the line where they see fit; where the line would be most convenient to them.
For instance, Judith Boss, author of Analyzing Moral Issues, would draw the line at the first trimester because after that the fetus will develop a brain and later become viable (9.Noonan, CC2005, p 0196). But then someone could argue that even though there is a brain is the fetus a person yet? Or a woman who was raped and took 4 months to decide whether or not she would abort the pregnancy decides she will abort now could set the line at 4 months. Since she has no connection with the fetus and it will just remind her of a traumatic experience she would draw the line the moment she made her decision no matter how far along the pregnancy is because she feels she has no relation to the fetus. To her, it is still medically possible and she doesn’t think that a fetus has reached personhood yet. Therefore the concept of where to draw the line just distracts a mother from naturally making the moral decision by her own perception (10.Noonan, CC2005, p 0185).
Jonathan Glover, the author of Matters of Life and Death, criticizes both Thomson’s and Noonan’s methods of reasoning abortion by saying that both are too one dimensional. He believes that the reasoning a pregnant woman should use for abortion would be her own free-will and self-determination. She has every right to do what she wants with her body.
Glover agrees with Noonan that we should draw the line at the moment of conception because the other stages are so subtle it is hard to tell when a fetus is actually a person. For those who draw the line at viability, that isn’t a stable boundary because it changes with the progress of technology. He states that two fetuses of the same stage of development at two different hospitals might have different outcomes depending on the level of technology provided by the hospital. One might die because of the lack of sufficient technology while the other would live (11.Glover, CC2005, p 0002).
However, he disagrees with Noonan’s method of using perception to justify personhood. He states that it is wrong to link personhood with being self-conscious because even newborns are not self-conscious. But fetuses are accepted as an entity in the human community from the moment of birth. Babies don’t become self-conscious until they learn to want and realize a sense of self and that doesn’t happen until a great while after birth. That is what Glover defines as personhood. To think that they are lifeless matter before that moment of personhood is irreconcilable because that would mean a newborn could be killed and that would justify infanticide (12.Glover, CC2005, p 0003).
Noonan would counter Glover saying that he has drawn the line at the beginning and that from the beginning the fetus is a person, a life. It is true the self-realization defines a person but that doesn’t mean that we can disregard the fact that the embryo is the foundation of this self and without it we would never reach that point. Therefore by considering the embryo a person at the point of conception is perceived by human judgment.
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