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Sample Essay in Defense of Abortion Rights

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    The question of abortion is one of constant contention and it has been the subject of virtually every form of argument known to man. This sample essay explores the book, A Defense of Abortion, to solidify and enhance the logic behind the pro-choice argument.

    A Violinist and a Tiny House, Analysis of Analogies

    In A Defense of Abortion, Judith Jarvis Thomson used a variety of analogies to demonstrate the complexity of abortion and formed the conclusion that the abortion issue has no one or simple answer. Two of these analogies, the violinist, and the tiny house, will be analyzed for rhetorical consistency and effectiveness, ultimately demonstrating that these two analogies, while partially flawed, are sound.

    Both analogies are straightforward in structure. The violinist uses a random person, a famous violinist, and a terminal illness as analogous components. In this analogy, the random subject attached to the violinist by medical equipment is A, while the mother is B. The violinist, C, is analogous to the fetus, D, and the violinist’s illness which can only be cured by being attached to the subject, E, is analogous to pregnancy, F.  A is similar to B in that they are adult people with lives of their own, suddenly obligated to support the life of someone else by sacrificing their own health and time. B is not necessarily equal to A in that most pregnant women came to be that way through voluntary actions. C and D are similar in their dependency to survive and because they are people. They are not equal because D is an adult. E and F are similar in the fact that they are conditions in which the life of one is dependent on another. They are dissimilar in that F is an aberrant condition while E is a fundamental human function.

    The tiny house analogy includes four components. The house itself is analogous to the condition of pregnancy, the person in it is the mother while the rapidly growing child is obviously the fetus. There is a third party on the outside that is analogous to doctors. The house is similar to pregnancy because in that it binds the subject and the child. The subject can only escape the house if the child dies, or the subject will die and the child will escape, drawing a stark similarity to the rights women have to an abortion. The third party is able to intervene but chooses not to on ethical grounds. This analogy is more abstract in structure, eluding simple formulation, and it is directly analogous only to a very precise situation.

    Thomson's pro-choice agenda

    In the violinist analogy, the components provide a strong comparison but are limited in their scope. The comparison between illness stricken violinist and fetus is adequate in that its similarities outweigh its primary difference, that is the violinist is an adult while the fetus is just that. The violinist’s dependency on the subject is clear and comparable to pregnancy in that the attachment does not kill or even seriously injure the subject, but it does severely infringe on her own freedom and does so in the long term, possibly indefinitely, as does a child. The analogy between this situation and a pregnancy, however, is applicable only to pregnancies that did not come about by voluntary actions on the part of the mother, such as pregnancy as a result of statutory rape.

    The primary argument presented by this is analogy is that one person’s right to life does not outweigh another’s, and simply being able to save someone’s life does not obligate another to do so. This is demonstrated as an ethos based argument:

    “Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation? No doubt it would be very nice of you if you did, a great kindness. But do you have to accede to it” (p. 49).  

    The suggestion being that there is no obligation to support the life of another, simply because it is only you capable of doing so. This is a convincing, if cold-hearted, point. It's one apparent weakness is a value based one, one that demands an entirely different argument, but it does beg the question of whether the obligation to a child carries any more weight than the obligation to an adult. Thomson’s analogy assumes this without addressing it. Her argument does acknowledge that its application is only to involuntary rape, not statutory rape, situations. She effectively argues that a child conceived out of rape should be considered no less of a person than one conceived from consensual methods. By acknowledging this weakness, Thomson accepts the limitations of her analogy, lending it credibility.

    Is it a sound argument?

    The conditions of the tiny house analogy are even more specific than those of the violinist. This analogy’s purpose is to demonstrate that the mother has rights regarding the termination of her child that a third party, like a doctor, might not have. It is compared to self-defense, in that the mother, trapped in a tiny house with a rapidly growing child, must either kill the child before it crushes her or die herself and allow the child to live. The conclusion of this analogy is that it is not for anyone else to decide the ethics of such a decision. This analogy is limited by its terms, however. Self-defense in this situation would only apply to a pregnancy that threatens to kill the mother. If it is applied to any other situation, it would threaten to become an excluded middle fallacy, comparing life or death to the discomfort and inconvenience of conventional pregnancy. As an analogy to a general discussion of abortion, the tiny house is weak, but it does effectively serve as an example of the complicated variety of situations which must be considered in an abortion discussion, which is Thomson’s primary thesis.

    The simplicity of these analogies is their strength. Thomson wisely chooses to use them only as examples of specific situations, rather than making them apply in a general sense. If Thomson’s thesis were more value oriented, these analogies would be much weaker support. But they serve very well as colorful examples of the variegated considerations that must be taken into account in a discussion of abortion.

    Work Cited

    Thomson, Judith Jarvis. "A Defense of Abortion." Philosophy and Public Affairs 1.1 (1971): 47-66. Print.

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