Discussion Questions on Judith Thomson, "A Defense of Abortion"


1.  Thomson proposes that we grant for the purposes of argument that the fetus is a person from the moment of conception.  Why does she propose that we grant this?  Does she believe it?

2.  Granting this premise, how then does she think that the argument against abortion goes?  Write out the argument she sketches with numbered premises.  Is the argument logically valid?  If not, can you repair it to make it logically valid?   Does Thomson believe that the argument is sound?  If not, which of the premises does she challenge?

3.  What is the point of the violinist story?  What does it lead you to conclude?

4.  Thomson writes on p.199  "Can those who oppose abortion on the ground I mentioned make an exception for a pregnancy due to rape?  Certainly.   They can say that persons have a right to life only if they didn't come into existence because of rape; or they can say that all persons have a right to life, but that some have less of a right to life than others..."  What is the "ground" she mentioned?  Why does she think that those who make an exception for a pregnancy due to rape will have to make claims like the ones quoted? How successful is this response to the criticism that Thomson's violinist analogy applies only to the case of rape?

5.  Thomson writes on p. 200 "If directly killing an innocent person is murder, and thus impermissble, then the mother's directly killing the innocent person inside her is mruder, and thus is ipermissible.  But it cannot seriously be thought to be murder if the mother performs an abortion on herself to save her life."   Why not?  What is Thomson's argument?

6.  Thomson maintains tha tthe violinist "has no right against you that you shall allow him to continue to use your kidneys."  How does this bear on the question of what the violinist's right to life consists in?

7.  Does Thomson think that it is morally permissible to unplug yourself from the violinist if he will die if unplugged, if he needs only a few minutes of your time to be cured, and you have nothing urgent that you need to do in those few minutes?  Does Thomson think that you violate the violinist's rights if you unplug yourself in circumstances like these?

8.  Why does Thomson believe that members of the right-to-life movement are acting in bad faith unless they also agitate for the adoption of Good Samaritan laws generally.

9.  Thomson argues that her argument for the permissibility of abortion does not support a right to secure the death of the fetus.  What does this mean and what is its importance to the abortion issue?