International Philosophical Quarterly

Volume 54, Issue 4, December 2014

Francis J. Beckwith
Pages 443-451

Does Judith Jarvis Thomson Really Grant the Pro-Life View of Fetal Personhood in Her Defense of Abortion?
A Rawlsian Assessment

In her ground-breaking 1971 article, “A Defense of Abortion,” Judith Jarvis Thomson argues that even if one grants to the prolifer her most important premise—that the fetus is a person—the prolifer’s conclusion, the intrinsic wrongness of abortion, does not follow. However, in her 1995 article, “Abortion: Whose Right?,” Thomson employs Rawlsian liberalism to argue that even though the prolifer’s view of fetal personhood is not unreasonable, the prochoice advocate is not unreasonable in rejecting it. Thus, because we should err on the side of liberty, the right to abortion is vindicated. In this article, I argue that Thomson’s latter reliance on Rawlsian thinking suggests a way of re-reading her earlier essay that casts doubt on whether she really grants the dominant prolife account of unborn human life.

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