Essay:Judith Thompson and abortion

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It came up here.

And can be seen here.

My essay is not complete yet, but it doesn't matter - Judith has actually only one or two basic points that she says in different ways and then she brags that she has "eight points".

The question of personhood[edit]

Ms Thompson writes that, "Most opposition to abortion relies on the premise that the fetus is a human being, a person, from the moment of conception."

She doesn't clarify what she exactly means by "human being" and "person".

  • A human being is any individual functioning organism that genetically belongs to the species Homo sapiens.
  • There is no clear definition of "person". General Motors is a person. I am a person. You are. Did Judith Thompson mean some common characteristic that makes us (humans, not General Motors) persons? Such like consciousness, the capacity to feel pain, reasoning, self motivation, the ability to communicate etc?

On the one hand, it is scientific fact that the unborn is a human being (if we stick to the first definition) (See: Beginning of life). It is quite clear that Ms Thompson uses the words "human being" and "person" in the same sense. By that she admits that by common usage of words, "human being" and "human person" are interchangeable terms.

"Indeed, it comes as a surprise when one first learns how early in its life it begins to acquire human characteristics. By the tenth week, for example, it already has a face, arms and less, fingers and toes; it has internal organs, and brain activity is detectable."

Ms Thompson is quite wrong about "human characteristics". Apes have toes. Every mammal has "detectable brain activity". Mannequins in stores have faces, arms and legs. I hope Ms Thompson didn't really suggest that appearance is a sufficient or a necessary condition for determining what is or is not a person. An early embryo looks exactly like a human being should look at this stage of his or hers development. The unborn is simply less developed than an adult, but it doesn't make it any less human being.

But let's suppose that personhood is acquired at some certain stage of development - for example, that only viable fetus is a person. But a viable human fetus does not differ much from a viable horse fetus. Even a newborn dog, for example, is much more complicated being than a 24-weeks old human fetus. If Ms Thompson uses the second definition, "person", then why does she think that the unborn - let's say, a day before the birth - is something different? Even newborn babies lack the ability to reason, to communicate, they are not self-conscious yet. So then, why? Because there is something different about humans. The newborn child can not demonstrate her ability to reason and communicate, but she is different than a primate who is, in fact, more developed than newborn humans.

But that would mean that personhood itself is inherent in every human being - including the unbron, including even the zygote. As time passes, it just becomes more apparent.

Ms Thompson writes that "A newly fertilized ovum, a newly implanted clump of cells, is no more a person than an acorn is an oak tree."

Unsurprisingly, Judith is dead wrong. The fertilized seed or ovum of a plant, or an animal, or of a human, at the time of fertilization and beginning growth, already is that plant, animal, or human. A plant can only develop into what it already is — that is, a plant. An animal, a dog, for example, can only develop into a dog and a specific species of that dog. All this is predetermined and already exists in totality when fertilization occurs.

Traditional ways of classifying catalog animals according to their adult structure. But, as J. T. Bonner (1965) pointed out, this is a very artificial method, because what we consider an individual is usually just a brief slice of its life cycle. When we consider a dog, for instance, we usually picture an adult. But the dog is a “dog” from the moment of fertilization of a dog egg by a dog sperm. It remains a dog even as a senescent dying hound. Therefore, the dog is actually the entire life cycle of the animal, from fertilization through death.
—Scott Gilbert]

Is an acorn an oak tree? Yes. All the acorn needs to develop into an adult tree is time and nutrition.


Judith is famous for her unbearably bleak (but famous) "violinist" example. She asks to "imagine" that you "wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist" who has a fatal kidney ailment. You find "the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours," making you like a kidney dialysis machine. You were kidnapped, because "you alone have the right blood type to help."

You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist.

Expect the extremely rare cases of rape (less than 0,1 of all abortions are performed because of rape), no-one ever "finds" herself pregnant. Women get pregnant. Women are not victims of their pregnancies, they are participants in them.

To unplug you would be to kill him.

To unplug the violinist would mean that the violinist dies natural death. If the Society of Music Lovers has really "canvassed all the available medical records", then the violinist's death would be more than natural. And if you unplug yourself, it means that you let him die. Abortion is about killing a person not merely letting it die.

Another important point; if you find yourself in bed with that violinist, you are really a prison. But pregnant woman usually continues with her social life and career. Judith wants to present pregnancy as a disease, as the greatest possible loss of freedom and that the right to end this imprisonment overrides all other rights of other persons. To help make her argument, she paints unwanted prenatal children as aggressors, as trespassers. She equates them with burglars climbing into open windows, and she compares getting pregnant to being invaded in one's home by "people-seeds [that] drift about in the air like pollen."

Who among us could have chosen not to begin life, or not to inhabit our mother's body when conceived? Inhabiting the mother's body is a byproduct of the parents' volitional act, not the child's. What the prenatal child does, she does by necessity. This necessity is also a byproduct of the parents' volitional act.

Judith's points[edit]


Judith provides us with a fairy-tale story that may at first seem as a fairly powerful moral dilemma, although it doesn't apply to real life. It addresses the question of "serious health risks" for mother, more specifically that sometimes a pregnant woman "has a cardiac condition such that she will die if she carries the baby to term."

At first, let me remind you a very important point: most abortions are performed when there's no health risk at all. With modern medicine the chances that continuing a pregnancy to term might kill the mom are extraordinarily rare and it has little to do with real issues concerning abortion. And an abortion means that one is killed while both could have lived.

Judith loves analogies, and let's provide her with one. Imagine that a car wreck has trapped two passengers in such a way that saving one might take the life of the other. Would the emergency personnel ever intentionally kill one to get the other one out? They would never do that, but they do everything possible to save both. In the process of saving both, one may lose its life. It would be regrettable, but unavoidable, outcome.

Judith is right and wrong with her first point. She is right about the pro-life position that inherently bad actions (abortion) are never moral. But she misses that inherently good (or neutral) medical actions are permitted, even though bad effects would result, in order to save the life of the mother. The crucial issue is intent.

I agree with her that it is irrational and brutal to expect a woman to die so that her unborn child may live. And it is brutal and irrational to expect her unborn child to die so that she could live. In cases where both of the lives of those affected are innocent, and yet something must be done, the solution is not to "choose one and kill another". The giving of chemotherapy treatments, or the removal of a cancerous uterus are inherently good or neutral medical actions that are done in order to save the life of the mother. There is very high probability that the unborn child may die trough the use of these medical actions. But it is morally acceptable, because the purpose of the action was to save one life, not to kill another. In other words, it is never "necessary" to kill unborn persons, but sometimes it is unavoidable (although regrettable) bad effect that is only permitted to happen as an accidental by-product of the act performed.

But let me remind you that there must be a resonably grave reason for permitting the evil effect. If the good is slight and the evil great, the evil can hardly be called incidental. If there is any other way of getting the good effect without the bad effect, this other way must be taken. In the case of abortion procedures, to maintain a slim figure, to have a child of a certain sex, to prevent the birth of a child with defects, or to evade social embarrassment would not be reasonably grave reasons for permitting the unintended and unavoidable death of the unborn child. On the other hand, to give chemotherapy or to perform a hysterectomy in order to remove a cancerous uterus, etc., to preserve the life of the mother (who is also an innocent human being) would be a reasonably grave rason for permitting or allowing the unintended and unavoidable death of the unborn child.


Judith makes a pretty pathetic point, if she tried to defend abortion with it: "If a human being has any just, prior claim to anything at all, he has a just, prior claim to his own body."

She is right. Absolutely! Of course, she doesn't mention that the necessary condition to have "prior claim to one's own body" is being alive. Since she claimed that she is arguing from the viwpoint that the unborn is a person (which she doesn't actually believe), then she must acknowledge that the unborn person has also a prior claim to his own body. So, let's ask: what does violate this right more. Is it

  • Forced pregnancy for 9 months and childbirth

or is it

  • Violent death with some of the following methodology:
    • Suction Aspiration - A suction curette (hollow tube with a knife-edged tip) is inserted into the womb. This instrument is then connected to a vacuum machine by a transparent tube. The vacuum suction, 29 times more powerful than a household vacuum cleaner, tears the fetus and placenta into small pieces which are sucked through the tube into a bottle and discarded.
    • Dilation and Curettage - a "doctor" uses of a hook shaped knife (curette) which cuts the fetus into pieces. The pieces are scraped out through the cervix and discarded.
    • Dilation and Evacuation - a pair of forceps is inserted into the womb to grasp part of the fetus. The teeth of the forceps twist and tear the bones of the unborn child. This process is repeated until the fetus is totally dismembered and removed. Usually the spine must be snapped and the skull crushed in order to remove them.
    • Saline Injection - a long needle injects a strong salt solution through the mother's abdomen into the fetus's sac. The fetus swallows this fluid and is poisoned by it. It also acts as a corrosive, burning off the outer layer of skin. It normally takes somewhat over an hour for the fetus to die from this.
    • Intact dilation and extraction - the abortionist grabs the baby's legs with forceps and pulls it out into the birth canal. The abortionist delivers the baby's entire body, except for the head. he then jams scissors into the baby's skull. The scissors are then opened to enlarge the skull. A suction catheter is inserted. The child's brains are sucked out, causing the skull to collapse. The dead baby is then removed.


Judith introduces us her next fairy-tale.

In some views having a right to life includes having a right to be given at least the bare minimum one needs for continued life. But suppose that what in fact IS the bare minimum a man needs for continued life is something he has no right at all to be given? 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.

To begin with, abortion is not merely "unplugging", the term she used in her "violinist" example. Children aren't just "unplugged" and removed from the womb; they are killed - intentionally. They are dismembered or poisoned before eviction. If Henry Fonda (who the fuck is Henry Fonda?) won't come to you, he let's you die, but he doesn't kill you.

Of course it is possible to kill a person by taking away the "bare minimum a man needs for life". If Henry Fonda intentionally takes away all food you have, he starves you to death; he most definitely kills you. So, even if abortion wouldn't mean that the fetus is being cut into pieces or poisoned (the acts that make abortion undeniably killing, not "letting die"), then it still remains killing, because the "bare minimum" is taken away. Judith knew that she couldn't protect her fairy tale with anything that wasn't purely fictional. She tries to depict pregnancy as the worst kind of imprisonment. Nine months have turned into nine years. Appeal to emotion, anyone?

Of course, there are many questions - for example, imagine that Judith has no food at all, and food is the only thing Henry has, but he doesn't give any of it to Judith - then does he kill her? He would be terribly unkind person, but I don't think it qualifies as a murder.

Now, I hear Judith and some of you screaming "violinist!". Because, after all, the crazy violinist has the bare minimum a man needs for life, but is it still unjust to unplug him? But it's been a false analogy all along, see the "violinist" section again.