"A Defense of Abortion" Discussion Questions

Judith Jarvis Thomson
  1. Toward the end of her paper, Thomson notes that many people who defend abortion might be unhappy with her argument because it doesn’t establish that abortion is always permissible. Why doesn’t Thomson think this is a problem? How might an advocate of abortion rights object to Thomson’s reasoning here?
  2. What four claims could the extreme view be premised on? In considering this argument, Thomson explicitly argues against the second of these claims. What is her argument? Does it address the other three premises? Why or why not?
  3. Thomson argues against the notion that mothers have a special responsibility to fetuses because of the fetus’s dependence on the mother. She considers two examples, one involving a burglar and another involving “person-plants.” Describe these examples and how they support Thomson’s position. Make it explicit how these examples relate to abortion. Why can’t we demand that one simply “seal their windows”? And what analogous claim might be made in the case of abortion?
  4. Do you think oughts imply rights? Write an essay defending your position and drawing on Thomson’s arguments. If you think they do, respond to Thomson’s objections. If you think they don’t, consider how one might object to your position and explain why this isn’t a problem.
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