In 1971, the Philosophy and Public Affairs journal published a pro-abortion argument titled “A Defense of Abortion”, commonly called the “violinist argument,” which quickly gained popularity at that time. The argument’s author, Judith Jarvis Thompson, PhD, granted that a fetus is a human person from the moment of conception. However, Jarvis believed rape was a justifiable excuse for abortion.
Understanding that true pro-lifers reject intentional abortion regardless of the circumstances, she constructed an argument analogous to a rape-pregnancy situation to demonstrate the “irrationality” of pro-lifers’ unflinching position. Her argument follows:
You wake up one morning and find yourself back-to-back in bed with an unconscious [famous] violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist’s circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it’s only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment and can safely be unplugged from you.
At first glance, this pro-abortion defense seems to resemble the unwanted act of rape and the consequent unwanted pregnancy; a person is kidnapped (an injustice comparable here to rape) and the violinist is attached (comparable to the resulting unwanted pregnancy). To detach the violinist is to kill him. Similarly, to abort a child is to kill him/her.
Thus, we are faced with an apparent conundrum. If we say that the rape victim does not have the right to abort her child, then we must also say that the person in this scenario does not have the right to remove the violinist. I will refute this argument with four counterarguments.
Rebuttal #1: Natural Maturation vs. Unnatural Preservation
Pregnancy is the natural end of the sexual act regardless of how the sexual act was carried out. The womb is the natural place for a newly conceived human being to prepare for life outside the womb. Therefore, as evil and reprehensible as the act of rape is, a child conceived in rape naturally exists and naturally resides in its mother’s womb until birth.
Natural pregnancy, regardless of circumstances, is diametrically opposed to the unnatural “plugging” of an individual into someone else’s body. Based on this fact alone, the violinist argument is not an adequate analogy, because natural maturation in the womb is not equivalent to unnatural preservation via artificial attachment outside the womb.
Rebuttal #2: Murder vs. Death
A key principle to remember is that murder is not the same as allowing someone to die. Murder is the intentional killing of an innocent human being by another human being. Direct abortion fits this definition perfectly, which is why we can truthfully say that abortion is murder. Removing an artificially conjoined person from someone else’s body is not murder because we are simply not made for this type of joining. However, a woman is designed to enwomb a child no matter the circumstances that led to her pregnancy.
Additionally, abortion entails actively destroying a child in the womb 1) via chemicals, 2) by vacuuming the fetus out of the womb (vacuum aspiration), 3) by dismemberment, 4) by injecting lethal chemicals and inducing labor, and 5) partial-birth abortions. Conversely, removing someone who is artificially using your body to stay alive is simply allowing this person to die. It is not the direct and intentional killing of a person and therefore is not murder!
Rebuttal #3: Financial/Mental Stress Does Not Un-Murder Someone
Motives are sometimes used as excuses for abortion. Therefore, we should look at the motives for aborting children conceived in rape. Women impregnated by rapists sometimes seek abortions because 1) they do not want to be reminded of the circumstances in which their children were created; 2) they suffer from psychological trauma; and 3) they sometimes do not have the necessary resources to care for the child. But let us take a moment and apply these motives to mothers who have birthed children conceived in rape.
One day, when a child is three years old, the mother looks down at the child and realizes he closely resembles his rapist father. Her childcare resources are slim, and she is at her wits end. Her anger and frustration are ignited. She grabs the nearest solid object and delivers multiple blows to the child’s head, immediately resulting in his death.
Surely, we can all agree that this child was murdered. We can also agree that this child was the same child who resided in his mother’s womb just three or so years earlier. Accordingly, if the mother’s actions constitute murder when the child is outside the womb, then they also constitute murder when he is inside the womb. The child’s age or residence, whether inside or outside the womb, does not change the fact that this innocent human life was intentionally destroyed by his mother. Thus, financial/mental stress is not a reason to murder a child at any age or residence.
Rebuttal #4: Abortion Is Not a Solution
An inherent problem with the violinist argument is that it condones abortion as a solution for rape. Murdering a child, whether inside or outside the womb, is not a solution for anything. Rather, properly educating our children about human dignity, demonstrating love and respect for others, well-funded and well-equipped investigative agencies, tougher sentencing for sex-related crimes, access to good psychological services and childcare resources, and, most importantly, bringing God back into society are how we begin to solve this problem.
We must also remember that rapists victimize women, and abortionists continue this victimization by preying on them. The woman who is raped is victimized twice and, consequently, travels down a dark, lonely path because she must now deal with both rape and murder by predatory men. Sadly, these actions often lead to depression and suicide. Thus, abortion is not the answer. Rather, it exacerbates the problem.
The Reason for This Article
I wanted to write about this argument because it is one of the more thought-provoking pro-abortion arguments. The typical pro-abortion drivel (e.g., it’s a woman’s choice, the baby is just a clump of cells, who are you to impose your morality on someone else, etc.) is relatively easy to refute, but the “violinist argument” took some thought to create and some thought to destroy. Regardless, no matter how advanced pro-abortion arguments are, direct abortion will always and forever be murder.
If you are contemplating having an abortion, please contact your local Catholic parish and/or local government for alternatives. If you have had an abortion, please reach out to Rachel’s Vineyard, a nonprofit organization that offers spiritual and mental health resources for women who have had an abortion. Also, Christ, through His Catholic Church, always has His arms open in the sacrament of Confession, where he waits to distribute His mercy. Do not allow abortion to prevent you from being a member of Christ’s family.