Many pro-choicers compare pregnancy to forced use of one’s body – that which is akin to rape or forced organ donation. They assert the woman’s right to bodily integrity above the rights of the fetus, as no one has the right to force another to undergo mild physical suffering to save the lives of others. Judith Jarvis Thomson elucidated this line of thinking in her famous thought experiment involving a violinist who is hooked up to a person in the middle of the night.
We don’t force people to donate organs to keep others alive; how can we force women to use their bodies to sustain the life of a fetus?
First, Ms. Thomson’s thought experiment: Her analogy is predicated on the unwilling and unknown implantation of a violinist into an innocent sleeper; the friends of the violinist hook him up to the sleeping person, as that person is the only one in the world who can provide sustenance to the violinist. Without this person’s body, the violinist will die: as violinists are people, too, this would be an atrocity. She acknowledges that her thought experiment is limited to cases of rape (where the host body takes no action to cause this situation); nevertheless, she extends it to all instances of abortion.
The most obvious logical fallacy is to take the precise nature of the atrocity and deem it irrelevant. Thomson’s thought experiment – and the idea of being forced to live with another person feeding off of one’s body – is that the host did not volunteer for, consent to, or provide a mechanism for this situation. The abortion debate is focused on the right of a woman to evict the unwanted child balanced against the right of a child to its life. A woman’s volitional act is certainly relevant to an analysis of the first right; the fact that it is not applicable in rare situations does not render it any less important. Ms. Thomson does nothing with her thought experiment save provide a colourable argument to a right to an abortion after rape.
Furthermore, the perspective of the analogy can be reversed: why should the prohibition against forced organ donation not be applied to a woman who seeks an abortion to save her own life? If we do not force organ donation, why may a mother have an operation performed upon the fetus (one which is far more invasive and destructive than a nephronectomy) to save her own life?
The only principle that would allow abortion but preclude forced organ donation is: one may destroy the body of another for one’s own medical gain, so long as one does not actually commandeer any part of that body.
The forced organ donation issue – and Thomson’s thought experiment – neglect to consider several factors: the identity of the person who attaches the two beings together; the fact that, although a right may exist, a remedy for breach of that right does not; and, as per above, the balancing of the right of a woman to her bodily integrity against her child’s right to life.
Stating the obvious: women don’t get pregnant by voodoo, storks, or the patriarchy. While she may be upset that another being requires her body for its very survival, the mother created that need and, more importantly, that child in question. Without her volitional act, her child would not exist. She is hardly in a position to complain that such a need is foisted upon her.
Thomson’s thought experiment and the organ donation analogies fail in that it is always some ephemeral being who creates the violinist’s disease, and it is mere chance that the particular victim is the only person able to sustain the violinist’s life. The more apt analogy is that a woman attaches a violinist to herself, and, by so attaching him, destroys his ability to live independently.
Even beings who are attached together against their will lack the right to kill the other. A Siamese twin is not allowed to kill his brother to prevent his brother’s use of the organs on his half of the body. Biology does not distribute its benefits and burdens equally; we are not allowed to redistribute or alleviate those burdens by bringing harm to each other.
Pro-choicers deem abortion to the exercise of the right to bodily integrity. They forget that a right to something does not mean that every remedy is appropriate. For example, the right to bear arms does not include the right to possess such arms by theft, even if one is too poor to afford his own weaponry. Likewise, women justifiably assert the right to bodily integrity and the right to not have their beings commandeered for the sustenance of another; however, it does not logically follow that abortion is an appropriate mechanism to exercise that right.
The organ donation analogy establishes a right to an artificial womb, if there were to be such a thing; however, it does not establish the right to murder. It does not even logically follow that a child lacks a right to its mother’s womb. Siamese twins have a right to each other’s bodies; does that right evaporate simply because one person benefits more from the interconnectedness than the other?
A woman who asserts her right to bodily integrity does not give up her corresponding duty to exercise her right without aggressing against another person. There is no means by which a woman can cease to be pregnant without harming her child; thus, we have a right without a remedy.
- Part I: If you can’t trust me with a choice, how can you trust me with a child? And, It’s wrong to bring unwanted children into the world.
- Part II: Why should a blob of tissue have more rights than a woman?
- Part III: If you don’t support abortion, you don’t support women.
- Part IV: Pro-lifers want to legislate morality; you can’t be pro-life and libertarian.
- Part V: Since so many babies die of spontaneous abortion, how can you be pro-life unless you want to save them first?
- Part VI: What about this violinist? If we don’t force people to donate organs, why do you want to force people to remain pregnant?
- Part VII: If abortion is murder, pro-lifers should want to imprison women
- Part VIII: Sherry Colb on abortion.