Comparing the Views on Abortion of Thompson and Marquis
Judith Jarvis Thompson and Don Marquis both have markedly different views on the topic of abortion. Thompson generally argues that there are cases where abortion may be morally permissible, due to the rights of the mother, while Marquis argues that abortion is almost always morally wrong, except under extraordinary circumstances, because the fetus has a future life. In this paper, I will evaluate the arguments of both parties, as well as identify what premises, if any, they both agree on. In addition, I will supply my own reasoning for why I believe that Marquis presents the more successful argument.
The general philosophical problem discussed between Thompson and Marquis is whether or not abortion is morally permissible, and, if so, under which conditions abortion could be seen as morally permissible.
In “A Defense of Abortion,” Thompson begins by stating the traditional argument against abortion used by Conservatives, which states that the fetus is a person and that killing a person is, in essence, murder, and thus morally wrong.
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She then provides her “Violinist Argument,” where a person has been kidnapped and connected to the circulatory system of a famous violinist. The violinist has a disease that can only be cured if their blood is filtered through the kidneys of the “donor” for nine months. Thompson argues that, while doing so would be a very nice gesture, it is not expected of the donor and therefor it would not be morally wrong if the person decided to unplug his or herself from the violinist and cause the violinist to die. (353) Thompson bases this off of the premise that doing so would not be violating his right to life, but would simply be denying him the use of the donor’s body, which is something that he does not have any rights to.
Next, Thompson follows up the argument about the violinist with her argument about the expanding child: A mother is trapped inside of a house with a rapidly growing child and will be crushed to death within minutes unless she decides to kill the child. This argument brings up the possibility of a third party intervening and killing the child so that the mother is saved. This is likened to pregnancy, where a doctor may or may not agree to perform an abortion. Because of this, the mother would be denied her full rights and the right to decide what is done to her body.
Because the mother has no reason to be threatened by the fetus, and the fetus has no reason to threaten the mother, both parties are innocent. (356) Therefore, a third party should not be able to intervene and decide, in essence, who lives and who dies. By likening the house to the mother’s body during pregnancy, Thompson also brings up the idea that the mother is the “owner” of the house, which opens up the possibility that the mother’s desire to do as she pleases with her own body carries more weight than the fetus’s right to life because the mother is already allowing the fetus to use her body. Thus, a third party should not be able to make any decisions about an abortion and the mother should be the only one to decide whether or not a fetus is to be aborted. Lastly, Thompson gives her “people-seeds” argument in which small seeds drift through the air and can sprout into a person if it becomes attached to carpet or upholstery inside of a home. In this argument, a woman buys the best mesh screens (a metaphor for birth control) that are designed to keep out the seeds, but as it is possible, a screen is defective and lets a people-seed into the home.
This, being a metaphor for voluntary intercourse where a woman is aware of the inherent risks of pregnancy, argues that, even though a woman may become pregnant unintentionally, that does not necessarily mean that the fetus has a right to the body of the mother. She uses an analogy of an intruder to show this: just because a woman opens a window, knowing that someone could enter through it, does not rob her of her right to rid her house of an intruder if one would happen to enter. This is likened to rape, where a woman would retain her right to remove a fetus from her body.
Thompson identifies that some opponents of her argument would say that someone could simply choose to live in a home with bare floors and furniture or a home with sealed doors and windows to avoid the threat of a people-seed, but Thompson then likens such an arrangement to choosing to get a hysterectomy, just so a woman can safeguard herself against the possibility of being raped and impregnated. Clearly, this would be an extreme measure to take for the sake of prevention. In “Why Abortion is Immoral,” Don Marquis searches for a concrete argument as to why abortion is immoral.
Anti-abortionists adamantly try to compare a fetus to an adult human, while pro-choicers argue that a fetus lacks any of the defining features that make it a person that would support the traditional argument that killing a fetus is wrong because it is a person. Because of this back-and-forth battle between the different sides of the abortion debate, Marquis proposes that one must first identify why killing a person is seen as wrong.
If such a premise is true, it can be used as a strong argument for why abortion is wrong. Marquis simply argues that, because a fetus has a human-like future, it would be immoral to abort it. A human-like future implies that the fetus has a future and has potential to do things in its future life. To abort the fetus would be to deprive the person it would eventually become of any future experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments that would have constituted one’s future. (367) Marquis then explores possible objections to his argument, one being the topic of euthanasia.
Marquis argues that, because someone that desires to be euthanized has no enjoyable future, they are not bound by his argument and that killing them would not be immoral. In addition, Marquis also states that his argument would be compatible with arguments that contraception is immoral. Because there is no actual being that is being deprived of a future life at the time that contraceptive measures become effective (in other words, there are only sperm and an ovum), Marquis’s argument retains its soundness. There are not any premises of Marquis’s argument that Thompson accepts.
She doesn’t believe that a fetus has an inherent right to life, nor does she believe that any right to life takes precedence over what the mother desires to do with her body. In certain cases where the mother desires to become pregnant, the fetus may in fact have a right to her body, but the desire of the mother to do what she wishes with her body still takes precedence. In my opinion, Marquis gives the more successful argument. The fact that aborting a fetus would deprive the future being of a future life can be applied to both sides of the argument. Even if pro-choice supporters argue that a fetus is not a person, the fact still remains that it has the potential to be a person, and as such, has the potential for a future.
While Thompson does make some very valid points in her argument, her main point about the violinist contains a major flaw. Whereas the donor would be confined to the bed for 9 months and would be unable to continue to live her life, a pregnant mother is still able to do other things while carrying a child. Yes, she may have to make adjustments to her daily life and there will undoubtedly be sacrifices that have to be made due to her pregnancy, but she is still able to life a relatively normal life while being a productive member of society.
Thus, while the baby is still using the mother’s body and its resources, it is not nearly as restricting to the mother as the violinist is to the donor. In addition to the violinist argument, the people-seed argument can also be challenged by Marquis. Even though a mother may consent to intercourse with the knowledge that it is possible for her to get pregnant, she is still responsible for the fact that the fetus now has a future. Thus, because the fetus has a future, the mother is responsible for at least attempting to carry the fetus to term so that it might live and have the capability to fulfill its future. At the risk of sounding cliché, if it was the future of a fetus to eventually grow up and become a person that would develop a cure for AIDS, and the mother decided to abort the fetus, then the mother has deprived the fetus of a future that would have, unbeknownst to anyone, changed the world. Both Thompson and Marquis provide very convincing arguments for their views as to the morality of abortion.
On their own, each argument presents a compelling case to support the author’s views on the morality of abortion. After comparing the two against each other, however, I believe that Marquis provided a more successful argument. It was much more concise than Thompsons, and could also be applied to both sides of the debate, whereas most of Thompsons points of argument could only be applied to a position that feels that abortion is mostly morally permissible.