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Moral status of the fetus and the permissibility of abortion: a contractarian response to Thomson’s violinist thought experiment
  1. Matthew John Minehan
  1. Australian Graduate School of Policing and Security, Charles Sturt University, Barton, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Matthew John Minehan, Australian Graduate School of Policing and Security, Charles Sturt University, Barton, ACT 2600, Australia; mmin1554{at}alumni.sydney.edu.au

Abstract

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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Footnotes

  • Contributors All work on the paper was completed by MJM.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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