Some have challenged Thomson’s case of the famous unconscious violinist (UV) by arguing that in cases of consensual sex a woman is partially morally responsible for the existence of a needy fetus; since she is partially responsible she ought to assist the fetus, and so abortion is morally wrong. Call this the Responsibility Objection (RO) to UV. In this paper, I briefly criticize one of the most widely discussed objections to RO and then suggest a new way to challenge RO. In so doing, I investigate the plausibility of the moral principle that appears to be driving RO: If a woman is partially morally responsible for the existence of a needy fetus, she has a moral obligation to assist the fetus. I argue that this principle is false. I suggest modified versions of this principle but argue that, even on the most plausible version, RO does not persuade.
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Even if one were to agree that a woman is partially morally responsible for the existence of a needy being, it still seems relevant that its neediness is not the result of an injury perpetrated against it.
I am not here claiming that I in fact support this principle, or any version of OA. I am merely pointing out that if one were interested in defending RO, and if one were to invoke a principle like OA in such a defense, this version of OA appears to be the most plausible version of the principle. Moreover, I am not interested in refuting this version of OA. As I said, I find it fairly plausible. I will go on to argue, however, that this version of OA does not do the work that defenders of RO would like it to do.
I would like to thank an anonymous referee for suggesting this version of OA.
I also think that it is important to acknowledge that the cost to the woman in any case of an unwanted pregnancy is likely to be rather high.
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Thomson, J.J. 1971. A defense of abortion. Philosophy and Public Affairs 1(1): 47–66.
Tooley, M. 1983. Abortion and infanticide. Oxford: Clarendon.
Warren, M. 1973. On the moral and legal status of abortion. The Monist 57(4): 47–61.
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Hine, K. How to Understand a Woman’s Obligations to the Fetus in Unwanted Pregnancies. Bioethical Inquiry 10, 239–247 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11673-013-9435-x
- Obligation to assist
- Moral responsibility
- Responsibility objection