Abortion Is One Of The Hardest Moral Questions Philosophy
Abortion is one of the hardest moral questions we have to answer. Both pro-life and pro-choice arguments offer valid moral reasons for their position, but each side also features flaws in their respective viewpoint. This paper will focus on two papers, Don Marquis' Why Abortion Is Immoral and Judith Thomson's A Defense of Abortion, from opposite sides of the argument. Both abortion theories feature various weak points and faults, but they also offer valuable insight into each position. After considering both sides and examining both papers it becomes clear that Thomson's theory contains fewer flaws, and thus her paper represents a slightly stronger position.
Most would agree that murder is wrong. Each follows his or her own logic to reach this conclusion, but it is nearly universally accepted that murder is wrong. Hence, for the course of this paper, we will make the simple assumption that murder is wrong. In his paper, Why Abortion Is Immoral, Don Marquis argues that abortion is wrong for the same reason that murder is wrong. Specifically, Marquis' beliefs are centered on the opinion that killing a human is wrong because it deprives them of a valuable future. For instance, if I were killed today the reason this action is wrong is not due to the pain and suffering it would cause my loved ones and myself, but rather it is wrong because I am now deprived of the valuable experiences I would have had over my lifetime. Thus, Marquis argues, if some (human) being-whether it be a child, adult, or fetus-has a valuable future, then killing that being is certainly wrong. Following this line of logic, it is morally reprehensible to abort a typical fetus, as the fetus surely has a valuable "future-like-ours."
On the surface, Marquis argument makes intuitive sense and provides solid reasoning for what makes murder wrong. But when examined closely multiple holes begin to appear. Many philosophical papers, such as Judith Thomson's A Defense of Abortion, which will be addressed later in this paper, present a good challenge to Marquis' argument; but, for now, I would like to focus on the two largest issues I personally have with Marquis' argument.
The first objection I have to Marquis position revolves around sperm. By Marquis' logic, if something has a valuable "future-like-ours" then it would be wrong to kill it. Sperm (and eggs, but for the sake of argument I will focus on sperm), like an embryo, has the potential to develop into life. Thus if we say, as Marquis does, that an embryo has a "future-like-ours," we must also conclude that sperm has a "future-like-ours." But by drawing this conclusion we inadvertently draw a parallel between murder and contraception. According to Marquis, if I were to murder my high-school nemesis Jeff, it would be wrong because I have deprived him of a valuable future. Then, by that same logic, wouldn't wearing a condom be just as wrong as killing Jeff because I am also depriving my sperm of a valuable future? This seems ridiculous, as even the most passionate opponents of contraception do not place their use on the same immoral plane as murder.
Marquis himself addressed the subject of contraception near the end of Why Abortion Is Immoral. As he states, "the immorality of contraception is not entailed by the loss of a future-like-ours argument simply because there is no nonarbitrarily identifiable subject of the loss in the case of contraception" (Marquis 38). But this counter-argument spills over into a larger question, which asks: At what point is a person considered a person? We can choose to draw a line at the moment of conception, or at the time when an embryo develops into a fetus, but we are only making an arbitrary choice. Thus if we do not accept an arbitrary choice, it seems reasonable to assume that if killing an embryo (i.e. getting an abortion) is wrong because it has a "future-like-ours," then killing sperm (i.e. using contraception) is just as wrong and for the same reason. As it is widely recognized that murder and contraceptive-use do not share the same moral standing, there must be a flaw in Marquis' argument.
The other main objection I have regarding Marquis' belief involves the notion of equality. Outside of extreme circumstances, most would agree that all killings are equally wrong. That is, killing one innocent person is no better or worse (morally) than killing another innocent person; their murders are equally abominable. This makes intuitive sense, but Marquis theory would produce a much different answer. According to Marquis, killing is wrong because it deprives the victim of a valuable future. But then aren't some futures more valuable than others? Surely the future of a healthy newborn is much more valuable that the future of an 80-year-old with cancer. The newborn will have a much longer and healthier, and thus a more valuable, future. Or consider a wealthy 40-year-old and a homeless, poverty-stricken 40-year-old. The wealthy person's future will most certainly feature less anguish and discomfort than the homeless man's, leading to the conclusion that the wealthy person's future is much more valuable than the homeless man's. Therefore, under Marquis' beliefs, the wrongness of killing two innocent men can easily be compared-one must only consider the value of their respective futures. But this conclusion makes little sense and is extremely counter-intuitive; surely the murder of one innocent person is equally as bad as the murder of another.
Judith Thomson offers an opposing view to Marquis. Thomson believes that women have a right to abortion, and this right stems from the fact that there are limits to our obligations. To illustrate her point Thomson provides us with a very interesting thought experiment. In her paper, A Defense of Abortion, Thomson asks you to imagine that you wake up in a hospital bed next to a famous violinist. The violinist is unconscious and has been diagnosed with a fatal kidney aliment. You were found by the Society of Music Lovers to be the sole person with the correct blood type to help. Thus they kidnapped you during the night and the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours. If he is unplugged from you, he will die; but in nine months his kidneys will have healed and he can safely be unplugged from you (Thomson 48-49).
Thomson argues, as many would, that you are not obligated to keep the violinist plugged in. It is morally permissible to unplug yourself, even though this action will cause the death of the violinist. Thomson further argues that the right to life does not include the right to use another's body. So, in the case of the violinist, you do not violate his right to life by unplugging him; you are merely disallowing him the use of your body, to which he has no right. This is obviously a parallel to childbirth. Following Thomson's logic, even if an embryo has a right to life, it does not have a right to use the woman's body. In other words, even if we agree that the embryo has all the same rights to life that a fully-grown human has, it still doesn't have the right to utilize the pregnant woman's body. Thus, Thomson concludes, aborting a child is morally permissible under the proper circumstances. Furthermore, a woman who carries the fetus to birth is someone who has risen above and beyond her moral obligations.
As with Marquis' view, imperfections arise when Thomson's position is examined further. The biggest issue I encountered with Thomson's argument centers around the parallel between abortion and unplugging the violinist. In the thought experiment, you were kidnapped and plugged into the violinist completely unknowingly. You did nothing to cause the violinist to be plugged into you; you were kidnapped and forced against your will, just as a woman who is raped did nothing to cause her own pregnancy. Thomson's thought experiment applies well to cases of rape, but it does not seem to apply to typical cases of pregnancy. When one engages in voluntary intercourse, they do so knowing the potential consequences. This does not apply to cases of rape. Therefore, Thomson's though experiment is useful when considering the case of rape but it is not applicable to the typical pregnancy and therefore it is not applicable to standard cases of abortion.
When we consider Marquis' argument thorough Thomson's eyes it becomes clear which argument is more flawed. Marquis believes that one's right to life centers around a valuable "future-like-ours." To kill someone is morally wrong because it robs them of their valuable future. Since, Marquis reasons, an embryo has a valuable "future-like-ours" it is morally wrong to have an abortion, as this will deprive the embryo of its valuable future. But an abortion is not akin to murder, as the embryo does not have a right to use the pregnant woman's body. A pregnant woman who chooses to get an abortion is not killing the embryo; she is merely disallowing the embryo the use of her body (to which the embryo has no right in the first place). The embryo thus loses its valuable future not because the mother directly kills it but because the mother no longer allows the embryo the use of her body. The mother is merely unplugging herself from the violinist and disallowing the use of her body, she is not strangling the violinist and directly causing his death. Thus, an abortion may cause an embryo to lose its valuable "future-like-ours," but this is an indirect consequence. The mother does not overtly wish for the death of the child, but merely she wishes to disallow the use of her body to another.
Abortion is a heavily debated topic featuring many different arguments. Thomson and Marquis provide us with polar views on the issue. Neither argument is perfect, but they both offer valuable insight into the issue. Both Thomson and Marquis offer valuable points for the pro-choice and pro-life arguments respectively, but there are also flaws in each of their positions. After contemplating and comparing both theories it seems that Thomson holds the stronger position. Her argument is able to stand up to more rigorous examination and, in the end, features fewer imperfections.
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