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1. The practice of abortion has been
conducted since ancient times, with its first recorded evidence retrieved from
the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus from 1550 BC (Potts and Campbell, 2002). Abortion
can be defined as an act of removing the fetus from the uterus before it is
ready to be born. The motives of abortion can vary from health reasons,
pregnancy resulting from rape, or inability of the parents to support the
child.  Abortion is a very sensitive
issue with various laws applied in every country. Some people claim that
abortion should not be allowed in any circumstances, as fetus can already be
considered as human being. On the other hand, some people argue that abortion
should be legalized as long as there is a substantial reason to do it and the
safety of the process can be guaranteed. In this essay, I will examine some of
major arguments that support abortion, which are Mary Ann Warren’s “criteria
for a personhood” and “Thomson’s Famous Unconscious Violinist” and show why
they are unconvincing, and that there are some more acceptable options than
abortion, such as proper medical treatment and adoption system.

2. Mary Ann Warren’s “criteria for a
personhood” in her paper On the Moral and
Legal Status of Abortion is one of the most well-known opinions in favor of
extremely permissive abortion, arguing that abortion is permissible at any period
of pregnancy and under any circumstances. Her view can be summarized as
follows. She admits that it is always an impermissible thing to kill a person.
However, according to her, there are 5 categories to be met before someone can
be classified as a person to distinguish them with just human being, which are:
consciousness and ability to feel pain; reasoning and ability to solve complex
problems; self-motivated activity or capability to do activity that is not
controlled by external factors; capability to communicate; and the presence of
self-concepts and self-awareness. Since fetus does not meet all those 5
requirements, therefore the fetus is not a person. However, Warren added that
the deliberate killing is also unjustifiable and is a difference case, since it
is always wrong to kill someone just for the sake of convenience, as does
killing animals without any purpose is something impermissible (para.47). However,
if someone already decided to do abortion with a clear reasoning, she should be
allowed to do so. (Warren, 1973, pp. 43-61).

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3. In addition, on the defense of the
potential personhood claim, Warren used the “alien culture” thought experiment
which will be explained briefly as follows. Imagine if an alien has kidnapped a
human, and the alien has managed to create a fully developed human being that
has the same ability as a person by using the human’s body cells. Imagine if
that person decided to escape from the project, he would have deprived all
potential human being that can be created from his body cells. Warren thinks that
the situation of that person can represent the situation of a woman that is
pregnant. Thus, she stated that woman has a right to determine whether she
wants to turn that human-being potential into a person. Warren concludes that neither
a fetus’ similarity to a person nor its potential for becoming a person provides
any basis that it has a right for becoming a person (Warren, 1973, pp. 43-61).

4. Judith Jarvis Thomson, an American moral
philosopher, also has a similar view as Warren towards abortion. In her paper
“A Defense of Abortion (1971), she used “Famous Unconscious Violinist” thought
experiment to show that even if a fetus can already be considered as human and
already has a right to live, it does not imply that abortion is impermissible. Her
view can be summarized as follows. For the sake of debate, she will define
fetus as already a person since the moment of its formation. Therefore, every
fetus has a right to live. However, just because a fetus does have a right to
live, does not mean that it is wrong to kill it. Imagine that on a day, you
wake up attached to a famous violinist that has been diagnosed with a fatal kidney
failure, and your kidney is the only one that can replace the function of his
kidney. If you unplug yourself, the violinist will be dead. In that case, what
will you do? The violinist is a person, and a person has a right to live.
However, Thomson said that it is morally permissible to unplug yourself from
the violinist, since you are the one that has the right for your body, not the
violinist. Thus, having a right to live does not grant you the right to be
entitled to someone’s body as well. Therefore, Thomson concluded that even
given that the fetus has a right to live, does not imply that abortion is
illegal (Thomson, 1971, pp.48-52).

5.   Warren’s
“criteria of a personhood” argument is straight to the point and convincing; I agree
with all her 5 categories about for considering someone as a human. However, I think
that showing a fetus is not a human does not automatically imply that abortion
is morally permissible. In addition, according to her definition of a
personhood, are people with Alzheimer cannot be considered as a personhood
anymore? John Jefferson Davies (1984, pp.57) wrote that “Our ability to have conscious experiences
and recollections arises out of our personhood; the basic metaphysical reality
of personhood precedes the unfolding of the conscious abilities inherent in it?.
In other words, he explains that all fetus has the natural inherent capacity to
develop into a person that fulfill all Warren’s 5 criteria of personhood. In
addition, I also think it is unfair if a humans are judged whether they meet the
standard criteria of a personhood based on its current situation. Instead, it
should be judged based on what they are fully capable of, once they have fully
developed in the future and what they were once capable in the past. As Roger
Scruton in his book Animal Rights and
Wrongs (1996, p. 53) says, some people are not in the “divining line” by
the time of the moral judgement; however it does not mean they are not members
of society because they will or have fulfilled the requirement to be members of
society. By judging based on the natural capacity, both fetus and people who
have Alzheimer can be considered as human being, since people with Alzheimer
had all fulfilled all the 5 criteria in the past and fetus will develop to
fulfill the criteria in the future. Therefore, I think, the status of
personhood is obtained since a fetus is created and has the potential to
fulfill all the criteria of personhood; and that status is something sacrosanct.
Thus, it is impermissible to kill the fetus, since fetus already the same right
to live as a newborn baby.

6. The “alien culture” thought experiment by Warren is
also intuitively convincing, since she categorized the fetus and potential
human created by the alien in the same level. Nevertheless, after looking at
the experiment closely, I found a significant difference between fetus and the
potential human from her story. The difference is that, in Warren’s story, the
“potential human” is not yet in existence. It is just something that is not
there yet, and there is a possibility for the alien to recreate it. The
potential human still does not have a concrete living cell that has a
possibility of fulfilling the criteria of personhood. Since the “potential
human” is still not in existence,  it
cannot be harmed; and if the person decided to escape, he basically harms no
other human. However, on the other hand, fetus is created by the fertilization
of ovum with sperm, and already has a living cell. Fetus is a prenatal human
that is in the process of developing before it is ready to be detached from its
parent’s body. Therefore, if the abortion is conducted, it means the
development process of the fetus is terminated, which harms the right of the
fetus to live. Based on that reason, I think the case in Warren’s “Alien
Culture” should be treated differently compared to fetus, since the potential
human in her case does not quite represent fetus in terms of existence.

7. Thomson’s “Famous Unconscious Violinists” thought
experiment shows that not just abortion, but also shows that even taking
someone else’s right to life is always wrong, nevertheless killing is sometimes
morally permissible, especially in self-defense situation. Her thought
experiment represents a case where we intuitively think abortion is
permissible, specifically for a case where the baby’s existence is not wanted
such as in rape or unwanted pregnancies. However, I think Thomson did not
consider the origin of the fetus in her argument. Fetus are result of the
conception of the ovum of the mother, therefore the fetus has a strong blood
ties with its mother. However, in Thomson’s
thought experiment, the violinist is someone who does not have any relation
with the kidnapped person, therefore the relation is not as strong compared to
the relation of fetus with its parent. The kidnapped person may have no
obligation towards the violinist, but a mother definitely has responsibility up
to some extend to her baby, regardless it is planned or formed by accident. In
addition, Thomson’s analogy also implicitly saying that the baby is a
“trespasser” and become some kind of parasite inside the mother’s body, which
is an inaccurate situation. The fetus is created as an outcome of something
that happened or done by its mother. As Doris Gordon (1993) writes, in
Thomson’s analogy, the kidnapped person did nothing to cause the violinist to
be sick, therefore that person does not have any responsibility to keep the
violinist alive; while on the other hand, the mother’s act (or something
happened to the mother, in case of rape) is the one causing the fetus to be formed.
Doris Gordon even said that “the parents are causative agent of both the
pregnancy and the child’s dependence”. I think the fact that someone is raped
does not change the fact that the fetus is her biological child and she has
some obligations as a mother, which include protecting her child’s right to

8. As the rebuttal
for arguments supporting abortion, I will suggest an alternative to abortion,
which is the adoption system. Adoption is the transfer of the biological parents’
responsibility to the child to someone else. Adoption is a possible alternative
to abortion, since it facilitates the transfer of responsibility to the baby if
the parents, for some reasons, cannot support the child’s life, for example
because of economic reasons or because the baby is the result of rape. In fact,
the demand of babies available for adoption is also pretty high. As an example,
based on Riler (2012), in 2007, the ratio between parents lining up for
adoption the number of babies to be adopted is up to 36:1.  Hence, if a good adoption system can be can be
implemented, there will be more babies available for adoption instead of being
terminated by abortion. An example for good adoption system is a program called
the “Alternatives to Abortion Program” by Missouri Department of Social
Services. In this program, not only will the pregnant woman receive adoption
assistance, she will also receive sufficient help during their pregnancy
period, such as better nutrition for the fetus or prevention of drug abuse of
the parent. As additional services, she will receive supplies related to
pregnancy or parenting, sufficient medical treatment, and even ultrasound
services to check the condition of her child. The child will also be guaranteed
to receive proper educational services and protection against domestic abuse. If
this kind of program can be applied worldwide, not only the number of people
getting abortions will be lowered, there will be more babies available for
adoption as well. Therefore, adoption is a good alternative to prevent

9. Arguments in
favor of abortion are all very interesting and have managed to convince many people
that abortion should be allowed under some circumstances. This essay has shown,
however, that all the arguments and analogy used by Warren and Thomson cannot
quite represent the actual relation between the parents and fetus, and
therefore those cases should be judged differently with the abortion case. It
has also been shown that there is alternative to abortion, which is to have a
better adoption system. With the adoption system, the fetus’ right to life is
not violated and the parents that cannot support their children can transfer
their responsibility to someone else that is capable to do it instead of
killing the baby.  
























Davis, J.J (1984). Abortion
and the Christian (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing
Co., 1984), 57.

Gordon, Doris (1993).
Abortion and Thomson’s Violinist: Unplugging a Bad Analogy. Libertarian for Life. Retrieved 2018, January 18 from

Potts, Malcolm and
Campbell, Martha (2002). History of Contraception. Gynecology and Obstetrics 6 (8).Retrieved
2018, January 2 from doi:10.3843/GLOWM.10376. 

Riler, Keith (2012).
Thirty-Six Couples Wait for Every One Baby Who is Adopted. Life News. Retrieved 2018, January 18 from

Scruton, Roger (1996).  Animal Rights and Wrongs. London:

Thomson, J (1971). A
Defense of Abortion. Philosophy &
Public Affairs 1(1) pp. 47-66. Retrieved 2018, January 2 from

Warren, M.A.
(1973). On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion. The Monist, 57 (4) pp.43-61.

Retrieved 2018, January 2 from




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