In this paper I will examine Thomson’s defense of the permissibility of abortion through two views presented.
Her arguments for this defense relies on what she calls the “life necessities view” and the “voluntary view”. I will present her overall arguments and then explain the difference presented between the two. Thomson depicts the “people-seeds case” in the voluntary view, which explains that voluntary and cognizant action does not imply the impermissibility of abortion. But I will argue that abortion is permissible in certain cases and defend her views which allows Thomson to draw her conclusion. Thomson’s overall argument involves the following claims. First, the fetus is a person from the moment of conception.
Second, nobody is morally required to make large sacrifices of health, of all other interests and concerns, of all other duties and commitments, for nine years, or even for nine months, in order to keep another person alive. We do not have any such “special responsibility” for a person unless we have assumed it, explicitly or implicitly. As discussed in the “life necessities view”, the bare minimum a man needs for continues life is something he has no right at all to be given.
As presented in the “voluntary view”, the right to life consists not in the right not to be killed, but rather in the right not to be killed unjustly. So, Thomson argues, abortion is permissible in some cases. As we can see above, Thomson’s “life necessities view” plays a crucial role in her argument. Again, the life necessities view allows Thomson to counter argue against the following statement. The fetus has to right to life, and thus, to what is necessary to sustaining its life, except when another’s life is at risk. Thomson denounces this statement as it is mistaken to think that a right to life entities other rights.
She presents an analogy, which states, “If I am sick unto death, and the only thing that will save my life is the touch of Henry Fonda’s cool hand on my fevered brow, then all the same, I have no right to be given the touch of Henry Fonda’s cool hand on my fevered brow. It would be frightfully nice of him to fly in from the West Coast to provide it. It would be less nice, though no doubt well meant, if my friends flew to the West Coast and carried Henry Fonda back with them. But I have no right at all against anybody that he should do this for me.” (Thomson 55). In this statement, Thomson declares that nobody has any right to use Henry Fonda’s “cool hand” unless he gives you such a right; and nobody has the right against him that he shall give you this right.
She asserts that having a right to life does not guarantee having either a right to be given the use of or a right to be allowed continued use of another person’s body-even if needed for life itself. In addition, Thomson’s “voluntary view” plays a pivotal role in her argument. This view allows her to support the following statement. The fetus has a right to the mother’s body in the case that the mother “voluntarily” acts results in conception (of a baby).
This argument gives the unborn person a right to its mother’s body only if her pregnancy resulted from a voluntary act, undertaken in full knowledge of the chance a pregnancy might result from it. The permissibility of abortion shifts, however, in the case of involuntary conception (e.g. rape). The unborn person whose existence is due to rape has no right to the use of their mother’s bodies and thus aborting them is not depriving them of anything they have a right to and hence is not unjust killing. But this argument differs on a case by case basis as details can make a vast distinction. She presents an analogy, which states, “If the room is stuffy, and I therefore open a window to air it, and a burglar climbs in, it would be absurd to say, “Ah, now he can stay, she’s given him a right to the use of her house-for she is partially responsible for his presence there, having voluntarily done what enabled him to get in, in full knowledge that there are such things as burglars, and that burglars burgle.” (Thomson 58-59).
It would be still more absurd to say this if I had had bars installed outside my windows, precisely to prevent burglars from getting in, and a burglar only got in only because of a defect in the bars.” (Thomson 58-59). Thomson concludes that it is absurd to say that the burglar now has a right to use your home as their own. It is absurd if you have taken further precautions to keep out burglars, placing bars on your windows (or several birth-control methods), yet the burglar still gets in due to a defect in one of the bars.
It is absurd to suggest that one should simply have no windows in your house (abstinence is the only option). Therefore, in Thomson’s “voluntary view”, abortion is impermissible only when voluntary acts lead to conception as it was permissible in her “life necessities view”. Carrying on from the argument made above, Thomson also reveals the vast differences between the two views due to her addition of the “people-seeds case” in the “voluntary view”. The case is presented as she states, “Again, suppose if were like this: 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 can happen, however, and on very, very rare occasions does happen, one of the screens is defective; and a seed drifts in and takes root.” (Thomson 59).
Despite the fact that one might argue that you are responsible for its rooting, this is not the case as one could simply avoid pregnancy due to rape by simply having a hysterectomy. Voluntary and cognizant action does not imply the impermissibility of abortion. The “people-seeds” case in the “voluntary view” challenges the concept of the impermissibility of abortion in the face of voluntary and cognizant action. Thomson presents the following statement that becomes the basis of her argument.
She states, “A further objection to so using the term “right” that from the fact that A ought to do a thing for B, it follows that B has a right against A that A do it for him, is that it is going to make the question of whether or not a man has a right to a thing turn on how easy it is to provide him with it; and this seems not merely unfortunate, but morally unacceptable.” (Thomson 60-61). Similarly, one can suppose a case in which a woman pregnant due to rape ought to allow the unborn person to use her body for the hour it needs, we should not conclude that it has a right to do so; we then conclude that she is self-centered, callous, indecent, but not unjust, if she refuses. If one wishes to deduce “it has a right” from “you ought”, cases arise in which it is not morally required of you that you allow the child to use your body, and in which it does not have right to use your body, and in which you do not do the child an injustice if you refuse. Except in such cases as the unborn person has a right to demand it- and Thomson leaves open the possibility of such cases existing- nobody is morally required to make large sacrifices of health in order to keep another person alive. From the “people-seeds case” arises the differentiation between two kinds of Samaritans: the Good Samaritan and the Minimally Decent Samaritan. The Good Samaritan went out of his way, at some cost to himself, to help one in need of it.
The Minimally Decent Samaritans did nothing at all which shows that they were not Samaritans, but were not even minimally decent. After telling the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus told those to go and do likewise. It is uncertain to know exactly what he meant in terms of being morally required to act as the Good Samaritan did or to do more than is morally required of them. Therefore, it is not morally required of anyone to give long stretches of their lives-nine years or months- to sustain the life of a person who has no special right to demand it.
We are not compelled by law to be a Good Samaritan but by nature to do so. It could also be argued that the woman has a special kind of responsibility for the unborn child issuing from the fact that she is its mother. As said before, we do not have any such “special responsibility” for a person unless we have assumed it, explicitly or implicitly.
If parents assume responsibility for the child, large sacrifices would be required of them and as a result, they may refuse. If the parents have taken all reasonable precautions against having a child, they do not simply by virtue of their biological relationship to the child who comes into existence have a special responsibility for it. Thomson does not argue that abortion is either morally permissible or impermissible due to the case by case basis presented in everyday life. There are cases in which carrying the child to term which requires only Minimally Decent Samaritanism of the mother and this is the standard of which we must uphold ourselves to.
Considering all that has been said, I do agree with Thomson’s argument as abortion can be permissible or impermissible on a cases by case basis. A desperately frightened fourteen-year-old schoolgirl, pregnant due to rape, may of course choose abortion. However, a woman requesting an abortion, who is in her seventh month, to avoid the nuisance of postponing a trip abroad is indecent. I am not morally required to spend nine months, sustaining the life of the burglar, but at the same time, I am unable to let the burglar live within my home and slit their throat just because I desired to.
In doing so, as long as the argument of the fetus being regarded as a human being from the moment of conception still stands so does my support of Thomson’s argument. From reviewing and analyzing her argument, Thomson can arrive at her conclusion. Her argument of the permissibility of abortion on a case by case basis partially relies on the “life necessities view” and the “voluntary view”. And so, we can see that although Thomson argues for the permissibility of abortion in some cases, she does not argue for the right to secure the death of an unborn child.
With that being said, it seems that we have good reason to accept and form our own opinion on her argument.