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Abortion as Justified Homicide

In the last chapter, I argued that if a fetus is a person, it is difficult to conceive of most, and possibly all, abortions as anything other than homicide. But killing another person is not always impermissible. In exceptional circumstances, both law and morality allow for it. These permissions have recognition in law in the form of defences to homicide. In particular, the law carves out defences to homicide in limited kinds of circumstances where it is deemed that taking life is, in all the circumstances, the right and justifiable thing to do. If abortion can be brought within a recognized category of justified homicide, then it can be shown to be morally and legally permissible even if the fetus is a person, and even if abortion is killing, not just the refusal to save. I introduced this proposition in chapter 1 as the Justified Homicide Thesis (JHT). I now wish to explore the JHT in greater depth. The question calls for an examination of the moral and legal constraints on permissible killing. Moreover, for those who think that unplugging the violinist in Thomson’s thought-experiment is as much an act of killing as any abortion, distinguishing the two cases and answering Thomson’s analogical argument will, for them, require showing that the rules about justified killing give different answers for both.

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