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Judith Jarvis Thomson’s Views on Abortion

In modern times, abortion is one of the most discussed topics in society. There are numerous arguments in favor of and against this highly controversial topic, and it continues to be one of the key points in political debates. In order to clearly express the argument, Judith Thomson has created a thought experiment that aims to depict the moral dilemma of abortion and the burden of carrying a baby. In this essay, I will discuss the relevance of Thomson’s Violinist experiment and provide parallels between it and abortion.

The case that Thomson presents to the reader poses an ethical question that aims to show the obligations and restrictions that pregnancy places upon women. I believe that, while there are some flaws in the situation that is compared with pregnancy, it draws an excellent parallel with pregnancy. It shows that a pregnant woman is being deprived of her fundamental rights due to the number of limitations an unborn baby places upon its host. In both the hypothetical case of the violinist and pregnancy, a person has no obligation to remain complacent with the situation in order to satisfy the needs of an otherwise doomed organism.

Thomson’s violinist is based on a series of parallels between her thought experiment and pregnancy. I would like to discuss the similarities of this case, which, in my opinion, provide a reasonable explanation that women must have a choice in this matter. For that matter, it is necessary to assume that a fetus has the same rights as any other person. As the kidnapped person has the right to freedom, so does the violinist who is plugged into the system the right to life. A mother forfeits a significant portion of her rights as well, but with an added issue that there are no guarantees of her safety and good health. In both cases, the unwilling participant forfeits a significant part of his or her rights to prevent the death of another organism. The question arises as to where it is reasonable to sacrifice one person’s rights, although the real-life dilemma has a number of additional factors worth considering. Not only was the decision made for her, but the mother’s right to life is also being threatened by the fetus. Moreover, the burdensomeness of the presented processes of healing another person or bearing a child is more complicated than staying healthy for nine months.

Due to the fact that a person is forced to be plugged into the machine along with the violinist, the case bears more resemblance to rape incidents that lead to impregnation. As the person that was kidnapped did not sign up to the obligations that were put upon him or her, it is not morally wrong to oppose being kept as someone else’s life support. In the case of willing coercion that led to impregnation, the argument becomes more difficult, as it is harder to put parallels with the case of the violinist.

Even if the focus is taken away from the severe cases of unwanted pregnancy, the issue persists. Carrying an unwanted pregnancy is no different from being kidnapped, as the mother is forced into the circumstances she did not choose. A number of demands that arise from pregnancy are difficult to uphold, and the mother must be willing to satisfy them. Abortion opponents do not consider these factors as the legitimate reasons for abortion, albeit potentially being morally worse, such as drinking while being pregnant (Crummett, 2019). If a mother is not willing to comply with these demands, abortion is a more ethical choice over having to carry a fetus while not complying.

There are arguments against the usage of the violinist case as an example of the decision-making process of a pregnant woman. It is hard for a person to link the act of unplugging a tube from oneself with extracting an unborn fetus due to the direct and indirect interaction with the subject (Knobel, 2019). However, since the result of these two actions is the death of another person, it is not unreasonable to use Thomson’s Violinist to compare these two actions.

Another argument that is often used during abortion arguments stems from the claims that a fetus, as a person, has a right to life. Simkulet (2018) claims that “a right to life does not give one the welfare right to use another’s body” (p. 13). The researcher argues that if people will consider an unborn child as a person, then a fetus has the right to ignore another person’s rights to bodily integrity (Simkulet, 2018). Shortly speaking, it must not be permissible for any other human to have any rights over another human’s body.

A third argument against the case to be used as an analog to pregnancy is that the violinist is not related to the person who is being plugged into the system to save another life. While this is true that maternal instincts play a crucial role in abortion decisions, abortion is caused by the burdensomeness of pregnancy that overweighs the will to help another organism to survive (Crummett, 2019). The choice to let the fetus stay intact signifies the intention of its mother to form familial relationships with the person, but it is not an essential part of the otherwise altruistic decision.

There are additional considerations for people who are pro-life and argue against abortion due to “nature’s intent.” The evolution of medical technologies and the accumulation of knowledge leads people to be less confined to the binary options that are discussed in this paper. Block (2018) states that the current developments will allow a woman to choose “a compromise between these two extreme positions” (p. 3). Evictionism is a developing technology that aims to provide a fetus with sufficient conditions to develop in the same way it would inside a womb, making Thomson’s violinist obsolete (Block, 2018). While this technology is not yet finished, I believe that both sides should be equally satisfied with this middle-ground solution.

In conclusion, I believe that Thomson’s Violinist is a highly relevant pro-choice argument, as it allows the person to examine pregnancy as a highly demanding task that places harsh restrictions upon a pregnant woman. Most of the moral obligations that apply to the case are similar to pregnancy, although pregnancy has a number of additional complications that are not taken into consideration by the thought experiment. A number of issues that stem from controlling women’s’ bodies only contribute to the health issues of the population, to the point where it might be more harmful to leave a fetus intact. Anti-abortion arguments can be satisfied in the future by technology, however, nowadays, they present a threat to women’s bodily integrity.


Block, W. E. (2018). Judith Jarvis Thomson on abortion; A libertarian perspective. DePaul Journal of Health Care Law, 19(1). Web.

Crummett, D. (2019). Violinists, demandingness, and the impairment argument against abortion. Bioethics, 34(2), 214-220. Web.

Knobel, A. (2019). Rethinking unplugging. The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy: A Forum for Bioethics and Philosophy of Medicine, 44(6), 698-711. Web.

Simkulet, W. (2017). The parenthood argument. Bioethics, 32(1), 10-15. Web.


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