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In what follows, I’ll run through two of the most prominent arguments in this debate.The first is Judith Jarvis Thomson’s “A Defense of Abortion,” and the second is Don Marquis’s “Why Abortion Is Immoral.” I’ll explain why I think Thomson is wrong and Marquis is right.By assuming the truth of the central claim that anti-abortion advocates typically make — that the fetus is a person — Thomson is attempting to strengthen the pro-abortion case.
You open the window, because you want a breeze, and you make sure to put up your screen protector, which is 99.9 effective in keeping out people-seeds. Are we really supposed to dispassionately weigh the importance of a person when that person is likened to pollen? Don Marquis argues for the contrary conclusion: Abortion is immoral.
Of course, it’s going to be easy to say, with Thomson, that it is permissible to eliminate a people-seed: Thomson strips the real-life being, which is the biological result of a biological process carrying the biological code of her parents, of her connection to the sexual partners who created her. What’s interesting is that Marquis follows Thomson in assuming his opponents’ central claim.
Thomson argues that abortion is permissible even if the fetus is a person. How, exactly, does she assume that the fetus is a person — the very thing opponents of abortion work so hard to establish?
She does so by building into her thought experiments the personhood of the relevant characters.
In the rarefied air of philosophical ethics, arguments can seem a bit strange and unsettling.
That is certainly true of Thomson’s article, which relies on fanciful thought experiments to advance her thesis that most abortions are permissible.
‐ People-seeds, like pollen, float about in the air.
If they enter your house and land on a special carpet, they become full-blown persons.
Thomson is basically raising the hurdle that a “pro-lifer” needs to clear.
Whereas before, all that the anti-abortion advocate had to do was show that the fetus is a person, now, in light of Thomson’s argument, even if the “pro-lifer” does this, that is no longer enough to secure a victory in the debate.