An Explication of Judith Jarvis Thomopson's "A Defense of Abortion"

Essay by ALiLhElPUniversity, Bachelor's May 2004

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Abortion has been a very controversial issue since the time it was legalized. People disagree about whether a zygote, embryo, or fetus is a human person. There is a consensus among the pro-life people that a newborn is a human person. They believe that any form of human life that is also a person, and thereby has civil rights, includes the right to life. People have different opinions about the stage at which human life becomes a human person. This is the core disagreement that drives the abortion wars.

According to, abortion is the act of giving premature birth, particularly, the expulsion of the human fetus prematurely, or before it is capable of sustaining life.

Judith Jarvis Thompson introduces the right to determine what happens to one's own body in relation to the issue of the morality of abortion. Her argument is laid out as eight main points. Thompson grants, for the sake of argument, that the fetus is a human from the time of conception.

Thompson's famous argument for the right of women to an abortion goes like this:

But now let me ask you to imagine this. You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital tells you, "Look, we're sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you...