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Debunking The Violinist Argument

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An illustration of the violinist argument: two people attached as life support and one did not consent.
When confronting pro-choice arguments, it is always vital to remain gentle, caring and truthful. The person you are communicating with holds divine value, just like the little people in the womb who we are fighting to protect.

The Violinist Argument first appeared in a 1971 text from Judith Jarvis Thompson. In her essay, “A Defense of Abortion,” Thompson presented a metaphor for why women should have the right to an abortion. She claimed that a woman choosing to abort her child was equivalent to someone “disconnecting” themselves as life support for someone to whom they did not give consent.

Additionally, Thompson argued that the value of that person’s life should not have any impact on the rights of the person disconnecting themselves as life support. Even if that person were a renowned celebrity, forcing one person to remain as life support for the other violated their constitutional rights.

Thompson was an influential philosopher with thought-provoking illustrations. But how does the Violinist Argument hold up in our post-Roe world? And, as Christians, how should we engage in this conversation?

Engaging in the Conversation

A commonality across every person, no matter their background, interest, or worldview, is the desire to know the truth. The truth is sought after by every person. The search for truth can look simple or complex, but every human searches.

The abortion conversation is a conversation about truth.

When two people or groups discuss abortion and the sanctity of life, the dialogue is only meaningful when the conversation leads to locating that which is truthful. The truth is the prize because beliefs about truth always overflow into actions. Understanding and believing a truthful idea leads to righteous actions. When the truth about abortion is understood, actions of righteousness are the overflow.

Both pro-lifers and pro-choicers have spent years developing compelling arguments for the right to life and the right to abortion. When engaging in conversations with those who think differently, we should listen with intent and care. We must not merely listen to prove the other party wrong but seek to partner in a mutual pursuit of truth.

The pro-life movement grows in strength and impact when eyes open to the value of life in the womb. We are candid about our desire to change hearts and minds. We want to see pro-choice individuals change their minds about abortion. But, we must engage with them in love and partner to pursue truth together.

So, let’s interact with a pro-choice argument rallying in popularity: The Violinist Argument.

What is the Violinist Argument?

The following paraphrases Judith Jarvis Thompson’s famous defense of abortion:

The Violinist Argument

Imagine waking up one morning in a hospital bed with your kidneys attached to the unconscious body of a world-famous violinist. As you regain awareness of your surroundings, you notice that the Society of Music Lovers kidnapped you and connected your body to the violinist. They tell you that your unique blood type is necessary to save the famous musician's life. His kidney ailment has a certainty of fatality without the intervention of connecting you to him. They say to remain calm, as the violinist only needs to be connected to you for nine months. The hospital director knocks on your hospital room door and apologizes for what the Society of Music Lovers did to you but continues to say, "The violinist has a right to life. Thus, you cannot disconnect yourself from him without murdering him and violating his right to life."

As you likely have gathered, Judith Jarvis Thompson constructed this argument to defend abortion in cases of rape. Many pro-choice activists attempt to use this argument to combat abortion restrictions.

When stepping into the shoes of the individual who the Society of Music Lovers kidnaped, you may feel that you would be justified to disconnect your body from the famous violinist, even knowing your actions would result in his death.

Of course, the moment you suggest you are justified in disconnecting your body from the violinist in this challenging and obscure hypothetical scenario, the pro-choice activist would immediately expose an alleged double standard.

How are you justified in disconnecting the violinist’s body from your own, but a woman who conceived a pregnancy in rape can’t remove an unwelcome person from her body? Though this argument seems compelling to some, it is flawed in various forms and misses the heart of the Sanctity of Life message. Let’s explore.

What is Wrong With The Violinist Argument?

When you listen intently to the argument presented, clear and unavoidable problems drain the hypothetical scenario of its power. The primary flaw in the argument is based on the distinction between taking another’s life and someone dying.

When considering the life of the violinist, there was a moment when he received the diagnosis of a fatal kidney ailment. This kidney ailment was the condition that posed a threat of death. Various factors could have caused kidney dysfunction, but it is clear that the dysfunction stemmed from problems within the individual.

A quote from the violinist argument article from Jess Ford with a Doctor illustrated on the front.

This illustration cannot be correlated to abortion because another individual causes the death of the preborn child during an abortion procedure. There is a clear distinction between letting an individual die and intentionally taking their life.

Judith Jarvis Thompson performs gymnastics with the written word to avoid the harsh reality of what abortion is: the intentional ending of a life.

The Violinist Argument is not an argument at all. The logic fails to address the reality of abortion. It is undeniable that surgical abortions require abortionists to interrupt a pregnancy with intentional actions to end the life of a preborn. It is indisputable that the abortion pill interrupts a pregnancy with powerful drugs that remove a baby from the womb. 

In Love, Speak Truth

In conclusion, when confronting pro-choice arguments, it is always vital to remain gentle, caring, and truthful. The person you are communicating with holds divine value, just like the little people in the womb who we are fighting to protect.

In the case of abortion, we are unashamed of our intentions of attempting to change hearts and minds. We want to see pro-choice people open their eyes to the value of children in the womb. But we must remember that the greatest persuader is love.

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