Abortion has proved to be a highly controversial topic in religion, politics, and even ethics. Its debate has caused division between factions with some supporting and others opposing its practice. This issue has also landed in the realm of philosophy where several ethicists have tried to explain why they think the method should either be supported or opposed. This essay looks at the works of Judith Thomson and Don Marquis as a representation of both sides of arguments (advocates and critics). The two philosophers are no different from one another as they both offer insights into their opinion about abortion. Thomson provides the proponent argument in favor of the practice which is somehow based on the things we should do as humans to assist others. On the other hand, Marquis also provides an argument that criticizes abortion although the proposition suffers lots of challenges. In short, the two ethicists discuss the topic of abortion based on the morality and ethics.
Jarvis Thomson tends to prove why the issue of abortion can be permissible even when there is consensual sex. Thomson proposes that taking the risk of pregnancy when a person knows does not tie her down to be obligated to the consequences in case things do not work as planned (Thomson, 1971). The woman is not bound to the development of the fetus in any way, and thus the only unjust thing would be to kill it if there was an obligation. The philosopher refutes the existence of such a duty by giving the analogy of a burglar who storms into a house. In this case, when a person lives in a neighborhood that is filled with criminal activities, it is purported that they carry the obligation of keeping the house from thieves (Thomson, 1971). However, when they leave the window open, they bear the risk of being broken into. When the burglar enters and injures himself in the process, the house owner is not obligated to take care of them to avoid their imminent death. In fact, the owner can kick them out without the attention that it can lead to their death (Block et al., 2018). The act of kicking the burglar out may not be a violation of his right to life. The basis of this argument is that the fetus is like an intruder who is supposed to have a right to life which states that a person should not be killed. Thomson redefines this to the “right not to be killed unjustly.”
The final analogy that the philosopher uses to show the permissibility of abortion from consensual sex is that pregnancies resemble “people-seeds.” The analogy shows how a person can become pregnant by using contraception which may fail. In this argument, Thompson explains that the consent to taking risks of pregnancy does not create an obligation to make the fetus a part of the woman and that it is not a must it uses her body. The philosopher asks us to imagine the world where people seeds fly all around and if they get into the house, they can get attached to the carpets and upholstery. The knowledge of these people seeds makes the house owner have protective screens in front of the windows. By opening the windows during hot days, the unwanted objects can find holes in the filters and end up in the house.
By giving us this analogy, Thomson argues that the people must leave the people-seeds to develop in their house for nine months despite it being nice to allow them. In this regard, there is an issue with letting the unwanted objects to stay. Removing them out is the decision of the owner. Just like an unwanted pregnancy that results from the failure of contraceptives, the mother has the right to decide what to do with it because it was not wanted in the first place. Thus, Thomson maintains that the pregnancies that come from consensual sex with faulty contraception can be legitimately terminated (Thomson, 1971). This gives the woman the power over her own body which is not overpowered by the fetus’s right to life. The fact that a person took precaution (putting window screens) means that they did not permit the people-seeds to enter the house. This gives no obligation to nurture the intruder, and since there lacks a commitment, the uprooting is not unjust killing.
On the other hand, Marquis tries to refute the claims that Thomson puts across in his article “An Argument that Abortion is Wrong.” The general presumption on this is that the majority of abortions are immoral. The argument of Marquis is based from a different angle with complete neglect of the classical antiabortionist theories. Instead, the shift moves towards the wrongfulness of killing from the personification of the fetus. He tries to define why killing is wrong. According to him, the characterization of the wrongness of murder makes us able to extend it to abortion in the same criteria it is for the other social constructs. Marquis diverted the notion that killing is impactful to the family and friends of the victim to state that the direct consequences to the victim are what make it wrong.
He says that killing a fetus deprives it of a future like ours (FLO) which becomes the primary focus of the argument. The philosopher creates four essential pillars to which his case can be based. To begin with, he states that he is not limited to discussing human species only, but also the debate extends to the alien species that live on other planets given that they can have FLO. Secondly, the perception applies to the right to life other non-human mammals that have similar futures like ours. Thirdly, the issue of euthanasia is acceptable because the terminally ill patient will not have a valuable prospect. Thus they will not miss the future when they are killed. The fourth perception is that the adults and the fetuses both have a shared future. Therefore, it is morally wrong to murder them as they will be deprived.
Marquis argues to critic the traditional accounts of desire and continuation by saying it would apply to kill a fetus because they do not have activities or experiences that are discontinued upon abortion. The desires account may be successful in the abolition of abortion but may form a basis for the killing of those who do not have desires to live and those who want to end their lives.
In a critical sense, the two arguments have both strengths and drawbacks. The beginning of Marquis’ perception is taking the position of analyzing the cases that pro-choice and antiabortionists take. His work is keen on deconstructing the neglect of their flaws and in effect considers them minor issues. He succeeded in diverting from the traditional proposition of personhood of the fetus and was thus not caught up in the same flaws that the theories have (Reitan, 2016). On the other hand, however, he repeated the same mistake of neglecting attention to the problematic parts of his approach and declining from giving accounts that are required to justify his arguments. To begin with, Marquis does not provide the rationale for proving that intelligent nonhuman mammals fall on the definition. This proposition is possible to be used by the pro-vegetarians in the killing of animals for meat.
The other weakness is that the theory is ambiguous on what the term “loss” means concerning the future. First, it is not known whether the fetus is aware of its existence in the first place (Reitan, 2016). It is not scientifically proven that the person is the same during pregnancy as during afterbirth. Secondly, the future that the fetus is supposed to have is something that creates more debates than acceptance. Marquis does not prove that the fetus owns the future it is supposedly losing when it is aborted. This concept can be explained by the fact that not everybody is born in a valuable prospect (Reitan, 2016). Not every child enjoys a precious life. While it is true that some children will enjoy the life in right conditions, some are born in extremely impoverished states. This begs the question whether the two cases have the desire for a valuable future and whether the impoverished ones have a right to live in such conditions.
On the other hand of the discussion, Thomson brings an argument that is powerful and exceptionally persuasive. She has spent much time and put more effort into trying to convince the reader of her new right-to-life definition. She also uses experiences and analogies to draw to understanding any adamant reader instead of merely criticizing the available opinions. The preliminary thoughts do justice to the philosopher as is an excellent way to convey her prepositions without the constraint that always mar a sensitive topic like abortion. The analogy of acorn to the oak tree is a sharp blow to the Marquis’ concept as it states that the zygote might not be a fetus at the time of conception. Scientifically, this is true as the development of a human starts by the simple division of cells. While some weaknesses can also be seen in the Thomson concepts, they do not contradict themselves, and they are not as ambiguous as the Marquis’ case.
The first weakness is the ambiguity in the development of a human as compared to the acorn. It is obvious that we can directly identify when the seed starts to become a tree with features that are different. This is not possible with a human being. If we pick any point, the features will be almost the same, only mere difference in sizes. The second weakness is seen in the burglar analogy. The fetus is not like the burglar in any way. It is not an intruder but rather placed there without its consent or even knowledge. Treating it as an intruder who has bad intentions is a misinformed analogy. This is true with the fact that the woman let conception occur on consensual sex. However, comparing the two arguments, Thomson’s become stronger than Marquis’
In conclusion, the issue of abortion still forms the basis for heated debates that cannot be solved in black or white manner. There are several grey areas and compromise points that cause problems and lead to further discussions.
- Block, W. E., Wirth, H. E., & Butt, J. A. (2018). Judith Jarvis Thomson on abortion; a libertarian perspective: DePaul Journal of Health Care Law, 19(1), 3.
- Marquis, D. (1989). Why abortion is immoral. The Journal of Philosophy, 86(4), 183-202.
- Reitan, E. (2016). Avoiding the Personhood Issue: Abortion, Identity, and Marquis’s Future Like Ours’ Argument. Bioethics, 30(4), 272-281.
- Thomson, JJ. (1971). A defense of abortion: Philosophy and Public Affairs, 1(1), 47-66