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Moral status of the fetus and the permissibility of abortion: a contractarian response to Thomson’s violinist thought experiment


Judith Jarvis Thomson famously argued that abortion is permissible even if we accept that a fetus qualifies as a person and possesses a right to life. The current paper presents two arguments that undermine Thomson’s position. First, the paper sketches a contractarian argument that explores Thomson’s violinist thought experiment from behind a veil of ignorance, which suggests that if we had an equal likelihood of being an unwanted fetus and a pregnant woman, it would be rational for us to oppose abortion. Second, the paper discusses the hypothetical self-aborting fetus, a thought experiment that reverses the dependence relationship between a woman and a fetus. It is argued that in this scenario, where fetuses have agency of their own, Thomson’s position would counterintuitively prohibit a woman from temporarily curtailing the freedom of her fetus even to save her own life.

  • abortion
  • philosophical ethics
  • rights

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