Abortion, the Right to Life, and Dependence
Hall (Timothy)
Source: Social Theory & Practice, Jul2005, Vol. 31 Issue 3, p405-429, 25p
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

  1. This article comments on the so-called argument from dependence expounded by Judith Jarvis Thomson in support of abortion1.
  2. In Thomson's original article and in subsequent commentary, one can find two main lines of argument for this conclusion.
    1. The first is the argument from self-defense. This argument appeals to the fact that a fetus2 is a threat to cause harm, and sometimes death, to the woman carrying it. Though variants of the argument differ in detail, all versions conclude that despite the fetus3's lack of fault for its threatening position, a woman is permitted to kill the fetus4 in self-defense.
    2. The second line of argument is what is called argument from dependence. This argument appeals to the fact that the fetus5 is dependent on the woman for life-preserving aid.
  3. Though variants differ in detail, the argument claims that the fetus6 has no right to this aid, and, if the cost of providing aid is sufficiently high, the woman is permitted to withdraw the aid. This permission justifies an abortion7, the argument concludes.
  4. Argument from dependence fails to justify abortions8 of fetal persons. The argument from dependence can be seen as an elaboration of Thomson's observation that a right to life does not give a person a right to the aid necessary for life.
  5. The key idea behind the argument is that killing a person who is dependent on aid for continued life and who has no right to that aid is morally comparable to refusing aid to that person. So, according to this argument, being a beneficiary of aid to which one has no right makes one morally more vulnerable to being killed than a person with a right to life typically is.

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