Don Marquis and Judith Thomson’s Views on Abortion


The issue of abortion continues to be one of the most divisive because opposing viewpoints rarely agree on many points. According to Johnson (2019), abortion is a binary issue because one is either for or against it. Such a scenario can be illustrated by considering the arguments of two philosophers, Don Marquis and Judith Thomson, where the former believes abortion is almost always wrong while the former believes it is generally permissible. This paper focuses on the case of Sue, a 23-year-old professional woman who uses contraceptives to prevent pregnancy. However, the contraception is only 99% effective, and she later finds out that she is one-month pregnant. The question that lingers is whether, at this stage of the pregnancy, abortion would be permissible for her. The positions of both Marquis and Thomson will be assessed to help Sue find the answer and support the argument that abortion will not be permissible for her.

Thompson’s Position

Thomson’s argument centers on a person’s autonomy over their body and if a woman’s right to autonomy surpasses the right to life of the fetus. However, clarification is needed on what constitutes autonomy and what people can do with their bodies. Thompson does not insinuate that the desire for people to do whatever they want trumps other people’s right to life. Such a position would be extreme in that it could also support such behaviors as homicide, where individuals can claim they want to use their bodies to kill other people (Johnson, 2019). Thompson refers to the bodily resources that a human has, including one’s kidney or liver. However, she is also keen to explain that a woman’s right to use her body is not absolute. Similarly, the fetus’ right to use a woman’s body is not absolute. The anti-abortion argument is that the fetus does not do abortion wrong, which implies that this right does not outweigh that of the mother to decide what happens with her body. Using birth control for sex implies she has the option of denying the fetus permission to use her body.

Another area of contention in her argument is whether or not a fetus has the right to life, which is defined as the right not to be killed. Thomson’s opinion is that even if fetuses have human rights, it does not make abortion morally wrong. Additionally, she holds the position that no person should be forced to use another’s body as life support. The example she gives is that of a burglar who gets into a house to steal because the widows were opened to let in cold air. Because a person would be partially responsible for the burglar’s presence, then it means one should let the burglar continue. In this argument, allowing a pregnancy that is unwanted is similar to letting the burglar continue. Sue’s pregnancy is unwanted, and, like the burglar, she reserves the right to take action against it.

In the case of Sue, she has tried everything possible to prevent pregnancy. Therefore, her autonomy over her body means she does not have to keep the fetus attached to her against her will. Therefore, both arguments from Thompson’s position indicate that Sue has every right to terminate the pregnancy, which was unwanted in the first place. The virtue of charity offers an alternative to Thomson’s view, especially in consideration of the length of pregnancy. The virtue of charity expresses that allowing a fetus to use a woman’s body is equivalent to a charitable activity. Therefore, Thomson argues that violating moral virtues is not as grave as acts of injustice. Additionally, no one has a right to charity, which means this is a personal preference.

Marquis’ Position

Marquis’ position counters that of Thompson because his definition of human that includes fetuses. Marquis’ argument is that abortion is wrong not because fetuses are persons but because killing a person deprives them of valuable future experiences that they would otherwise have. (Johnson, 2019). The idea of a ‘future like ours’ makes the future valuable as per Marquis’ argument because of the happiness, projects, and enjoyments. In this case, even if one was to adopt Thomson’s view that excludes a fetus in the definition of a human, Marquis’ position is that abortion will still be immoral in most cases. However, it is important to emphasize that Marquis’ argument is that fetuses are human beings because they have similar features or that they would have a future like that of other humans. Because fetuses are considered to be human, they have moral personhood that guarantees them the right to life. Sue should understand that terminating her pregnancy at this stage would be immoral because it would be equivalent to killing a human being because it would thereby be an act of denying the fetus a future like ours.

Marquis offers a few exceptions that Sue might consider when deciding whether to terminate the pregnancy. For example, a woman who gets pregnant from rape may be morally allowed to abort because her pregnancy was not consented to (Johnson, 2019). Another instance is when the continuation of the pregnancy may endanger the life of the woman, in which case the decision pertains to who should be saved, the fetus or the mother. In the case of Sue, the pregnancy was not the result of rape because she has an active sex life. Therefore, she cannot use this exception to terminate the pregnancy. However, the only argument is that the pregnancy is unwanted because she has deliberately tried to avoid it. Additionally, the second exception does not apply because there is no evidence that the pregnancy threatens her life. As a result, Marquis believes that abortion for a reason is immoral since it deprives the fetus of the right to life and all the experiences that come with it.

Evaluation of Both Positions

Both Thompson and Marquis offer compelling arguments to support their positions. However, each of them may have areas of weakness that may raise criticism and objection. One objection to Thompson is that she believes allowing fetuses to develop in a woman’s womb is an act of charity, which should be based on personal preferences. Additionally, she believes that violating the moral values of charity to not have the same implications as the denial of justice. Therefore, the fact that abortion is not considered morally wrong becomes a confusing argument, especially when she holds that fetuses are also human. This objection can also extend to the child-mother relationship after birth. The autonomy to use one’s body as one wishes means that a mother can also neglect a born child because it depends on her for survival. The moral personhood of a fetus extends beyond birth, which means that a child’s dependence on her mother after birth can also be seen as a mother’s charity. Therefore, Thompson’s position is that of someone desperate to avoid parental responsibilities by arguing that whatever good deeds are done to the children is a charity and not rights.

Marquis’ position also faces a major objection regarding unwanted pregnancies. Considering that there are exceptions to when abortion becomes moral, then it can be argued that all cases where the pregnancy is not consented to should be allowed to abort. Sue’s case forms a perfect illustration for this objection because she makes a deliberate effort to make sure she does not get pregnant. As a professional woman, she is probably aware that she cannot handle motherhood, and her entire life could be detrimentally affected by pregnancy and birth. Should this not be a consideration for an abortion in an attempt to safeguard her personal life? Unwanted pregnancies have not been mentioned by Marquis, which means that one can only assume that all pregnancies other than rape and threat to a mother’s life are immoral to abort. The real objection is that women should keep only those pregnancies that they are prepared for and consented to, as opposed to Marquis’ argument and the shallow exceptions he gives. In other words, keeping unwanted pregnancies could be a scar on a woman’s entire life, which could be an immoral thing to support.

Favored Position

The position taken is that of Marquis, which holds that Sue cannot abort at this stage because it is immoral. This position can be supported by the rights theory, which posits that all humans have certain rights that should be safeguarded on the basis that they are human. Human rights are moral beliefs that confer inherent freedoms on human beings, especially the right to life. According to Johnson (2019), it is possible for society to ‘play it safe and declare that personhood begins at conception, ensuring that a person’s rights are never violated. Despite the fact that Thomson shares this viewpoint, her contention that the fetus’s right to life is not absolute is denied. This supports Marquis’ position that fetuses are also human beings, which entitles them to human rights. Marquis’ position can answer any objections against it because fetuses are considered humans. The decision to end its life should be entitled to it and nobody else.

One of the objections to Marquis is how to treat unwanted pregnancies. Marquis’ position may find it hard to address this objection because of the exceptions given. If a mother can abort a pregnancy from rape, then all other unwanted pregnancies can be aborted. However, Marquis’ argument can be interpreted to mean that forced sexual intercourse or the possibility of the mother dying from pregnancy are adequate to allow abortion. All cases where sexual intercourse is consented to should be excluded from the list of exceptions because all rational human beings understand that pregnancy is a possibility after sex. In the case of Sue, she fully understands that contraception work only 99% of the time, which also leaves a real possibility that it might fail. Her continued sexually active life implies she is aware of the likelihood of pregnancy, which makes it immoral for her to abort.


Sue is not permitted to terminate the pregnancy at this stage because it is wrong and immoral to do so. The position taken is that of Marquis that gives fetuses the right to lie. Plausible exceptions have been given in his argument, which makes it better than Thompson’s. since Sue’s pregnancy does not qualify for any of the exceptions, it becomes immoral for her to terminate the pregnancy because it is equivalent to killing. Additionally, Thompson’s position may grant her more freedom, but the contentious issue of defining personhood makes it more sophisticated.


Johnson, D. (2019). The relevance (and irrelevance) of questions of personhood (and mindedness) to the abortion debate. SHERM, 1(2), 121-53. Web.

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"Don Marquis and Judith Thomson's Views on Abortion." Premium Papers, 26 Jan. 2023,


Premium Papers. (2023) 'Don Marquis and Judith Thomson's Views on Abortion'. 26 January.


Premium Papers. 2023. "Don Marquis and Judith Thomson's Views on Abortion." January 26, 2023.

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Premium Papers. "Don Marquis and Judith Thomson's Views on Abortion." January 26, 2023.