I was originally looking for any Christian Church that is against abortion in the case of rape that has also responded to the scenario below or something similar to it. I was instead advised to revise my question into something like:

What is an overview of Christian arguments made against the Thomson paper's support for abortion in the case of rape?

"A Defense of Abortion" (Thomson):

You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. [If he is unplugged from you now, he will die; but] in nine months he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.

It is said later that:

Critics of Thomson's argument generally grant the permissibility of unplugging the violinist, but seek to block the inference that abortion is permissible by arguing that there are morally relevant differences between the violinist scenario and typical cases of abortion.

But it is unsourced. :(

To make my intentions clear, the above is an analogy for a female being raped and impregnated by a male. Some churches claim that the female is obliged to carry the child to birth if medically practical because the child is innocent of his/her father's sins, has a right to life, etc etc etc.

(Assume ideal conditions such as medical complications not being present so the mother and child are healthy, the mother can give birth, the mother and the father are not close relatives, a proper hospital is available and can be afforded, an adoption agency is available etc etc etc)

So do those arguments apply to the violinist too? What are the "morally relevant differences" ? I understand that Thomson was defending abortion in non-rape cases, but let us consider only rape cases.

What's the difference? Why are women responsible for carrying a child, who she did not consent to carrying, to birth but people are not responsible for caring for a violinist who they were attached to without consent?

I am not saying women are not responsible, but if they are, it looks like everyone is responsible for the violinist.

  • 6
    I think the question is fine. I bet the most common logic is: Abortion is homicide and rape is sin, but a child conceived from rape is not guilty of that rape or any other sin, therefore, it would be murder to abort the fetus. I'd actually be more interested in the logic for Christian groups that are against abortion except in the case of rape.
    – user3961
    Nov 24, 2015 at 8:16

2 Answers 2


I will begin by observing that the answer to this question is a logical and philosophical one, hence it does not depend on a particular religion or denomination. It is human nature itself that demands utmost respect for all human beings, and hence all people—regardless of religion—are obligated to work for the end to direct abortion in all cases.

I will, however, answer from the perspective of the Catholic Church.

For the purposes of this discussion, direct abortion is defined as any action “tending directly to destroy human life in the womb ‘whether such destruction is intended as an end or only as a means to an end;’” see Evangelium Vitae 62, which is quoting an address made by Pope Pius XII on November 12, 1944, to the San Luca Biomedical Association.

Regarding direct abortion itself

The Catholic Church takes the position that direct abortion can never be justified for any reason. In other words, although there may be situations in which a medical procedure must be made that results in the death of the child (e.g., in the treatment of ectopic pregnancies, or in the case of particularly aggressive cancers), the death of the child can never be directly intended—either for its own sake, or for the sake of some other good. As Pope John Paul II said in Evangelium Vitae,

I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being (No. 62).

Regarding the case of pregnancy that results from rape

Hence, a woman who has been raped (and whoever finds herself in that situation deserves the utmost care and support!), and is pregnant as a result, is indeed obligated to bring the child to term. This obligation arises from the fact that the child in question is a human being—in fact, a human person—with all the rights and obligations that accrue to a human being, simply for being human. The most fundamental right of all is the right to life.

It should also be observed that although rape itself is an unspeakable crime, pregnancy as such is not, nor does it cause harm to the mother. Rather, it is a normal part of human development. Clearly, the way in which this particular kind of pregnancy comes about is extremely traumatic and violent, but the pregnancy itself is not a violence against the woman or her body.

It is true that pregnancy brings with it certain risks, but modern medical care mitigates the vast majority of them. It is also true that pregnancy—especially one that is unexpected and emotionally charged, as in this this case—can be burdensome for the mother. However, the proper response is for society to help her bear the burden: doing violence to the completely innocent child in her womb solves nothing and heals nothing.

(I do not have access to scientific studies on cases of pregnancies resulting from rape—I am not sure that there are enough cases to be statistically significant—however, ample anecdotal evidence shows that bringing the child to term is often a source of healing for the mother. See for example, this story about a mother who was raped when she was 12; a story about people conceived in rape; a story from a woman who at first wanted her baby dead. Moreover, abortion itself is always extremely harmful to the woman who has it done—at a minimum, for the moral damage it causes, but at least in a significant number of cases, it also produces intense anguish and suffering.)

A look at the “violinist” analogy

Let us now look at the analogy presented by the O.P.

The first thing to observe is that it is an entirely canned and unrealistic situation. In reality, there is no medical situation is like this. (In the case of kidney failure, the proper procedure is to give the violinist kidney dialysis.)

Let us, however, take the “bait” and see if the analogy between the situations really holds. In fact, there are important differences:

  • The violinist is not healthy. He is, in fact, in a very precarious medical situation, and any treatment that will be performed on him has only a limited chance of success. On the contrary, in the vast majority of cases, the baby conceived in rape is perfectly healthy, and so is the mother (at least for the most part—she is generally not at death’s door, like the violinist). Unless someone does violence to him, the baby is fully expected to survive and flourish.

  • The violinist depends on the kidnapped victim only tenuously for his survival. Once his disease is cured, he can go on his way. On the other hand, a baby (at least before viability) depends radically on his mother for his very existence. In other words, the violinist depends on the kidnapped victim only because (1) he has an illness and (2) the kidnapped person has been connected to him—in other words, he depends only accidentally on the kidnapped person. The baby, on the other hand, depends on his mother (as it is said) essentially—that is just how the baby is made right now, even though he is perfectly healthy.

  • Comparing not the crimes committed, but only the situation of the victims (person kidnapped and mother) after the crime is committed, the person connected to the violinist is subjected to a much worse burden. The kidnapped person must remain immobile for nine months in a hospital; pregnancy (without diminishing the real burdens that it entails) does not impose a comparable burden on the mother.

  • Removing the connection to the violinist does not intend to procure the death of the violinist. It intends to remove the victim from a burdensome (and, in this case, unjust) situation. On the other hand, direct abortion does violence to the baby—it necessarily intends the baby’s death.

With these differences in mind, let us look at each situation:

  • Would a person who finds himself connected to a sick violinist be obliged to remain there until the violinist recovers?

    We should observe that—as in the case of abortion—the fact that the person aiding the violinist was placed in that position by violence is actually irrelevant to the question. The question is: now that I find myself connected to a sick violinist (however I got there), may I disconnect myself?

    The answer is, “It depends on the circumstances.” (Assuming I am this victim), I cannot summarily pull out the connections, without at least appraising the situation. I have to consider the life of this sick person, and whether my actions would directly procure his death or not.

    In this case, however, because his dependence on me is circumstantial or (to use the classical terminology) “accidental,” I would most likely not be obligated to continue the “treatment.” We are dealing with a very sick patient whose life might (or might not) be prolonged by my being connected with him. The use of my kidneys is, at the end of the day, a risky experimental procedure that has a certain probability of success, but is not 100% certain, and might even cause me harm.

    Moreover, remaining connected to the violinist is a tremendous burden (one not comparable to pregnancy, as mentioned above). It could only be imposed on me with my consent—which is obviously lacking in this case.

    In summary, the dependence of the violinist on the kidnapping victim for his survival is too tenuous or “accidental” for it to impose an absolute obligation on the kidnapped person to continue the “treatment.” However, even in a case like this the life of the violinist must be preserved as best as the situation allows.

  • May a woman who finds herself pregnant as a result of a rape do violence to her child?

    No, never. There is no way to “disconnect” the baby without necessarily bringing about his death. The dependence of the baby on his mother is essential—brought about by his very constitution.

    Moreover, the burden imposed by the baby on the mother is one that can be reasonably be expected to be born. It does not threaten her life or her wellbeing, and what risks there are can (in the vast majority of cases) be mitigated. The evidence strongly suggests that pregnancy and birth are healing experiences for mothers that are victims of rape—and that aborting such children, on the contrary, causes the mother anguish and unspeakable suffering.

A better analogy

I will propose a better analogy that is closer to the situation of pregnancy that results from rape.

Suppose that through some sort of act of violence (perhaps a terrorist attack or something similar), I encounter a newborn baby who has no one to care for him. (Suppose that he is the only survivor of a terrorist attack.)

Supposing that there is no one else who can do so, would I be obliged to take care of him? I think that everyone would agree that the answer is “yes.” At a minimum, I would be obliged to find someone else who would be willing to take over that responsibility.

Does the fact that the situation was imposed on me by violence take away my responsibility? Not a bit. It may make it more difficult for me to take on that responsibility, but the responsibility remains. The proper response, however, is to seek help and support in fulfilling that responsibility—not to do violence to the innocent child who is the subject of it.

  • +1 "Comparing not ...necessarily intends the baby’s death." That's in the other answer too. Many thanks Athena...Alex :-) Dec 30, 2015 at 20:02
  • @Angelo. I am not sure that you can put together in the same category a woman’s body (which is a proxy for the person of the woman) and the kidney (which is just an organ). Moreover, the “purpose” argument is not automatic. It may not be the “purpose” of my mouth to give people mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but if I were trained in CPR, and I could save someone using my mouth like that, then I think I would be obligated to do so. Jan 26, 2017 at 11:42
What is an overview of Christian arguments made against the Thomson paper's support for abortion in the case of rape?

Here is an answer, which has a basis of this scripture: Exodus 21:22-25:

“If men fight, and hurt a woman with child,” [...] “if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life” (etc.)

So this indicates that the unborn should be protected. (Suggesting that this law only applies to when "men fight" sounds like a technicality. The spirit of the law is to protect the unborn. At least, that's one argument that can be made.)

So do those arguments apply to the violinist too?

Presumably, the violinist is another separate human being, who should have a body that is fully self-sufficient. Once a person reaches the state of being self-sufficient, then they generally shouldn't require the plug. However, even in that case, I would say that Jesus clearly taught that the laws God prioritizes most are loving God and loving people. Remaining plugged into the violinist would be an act of sacrificial love.

If I could keep someone alive, with minimal disruption to my own life, then I think it would be exceedingly selfish for me to not do so. Well, maybe you could make a sensible argument that it is not "exceedingly" selfish for me to want to live a life other than staying in the hospital bed by the violinist. Presumably the violinist is large enough that carrying this person on my back would be quite burdensome. So the analogy falls apart a bit there (because carrying a baby, within the confines of a person's body, would be easier than having a fully grown person clinging onto my back). Getting the focus back to morality, the right thing for me to do is to go through some inconvenience to help a person in need, like the Good Samaritan, who spent some of his time, and was financially worse off in the end.

What are the "morally relevant differences" ?
What's the difference?

The stance, which I'm trying to describe, is that this isn't all that different. This hypothetical scenario of the violinist is quite similar, and people should seek to do what they can to protect the violinist.

To be clear...

Critics of Thomson's argument generally grant the permissibility of unplugging the violinist, but seek to block the inference that abortion is permissible
... that is not the stance that is being taken by the argument that I am currently providing. I'm primarily answering the question about a "Christian argument", and am not assuming the permissibility of unplugging the violinist.

A later part of a later question:

...but people are not responsible for caring for a violinist who they were attached to without consent?

is also answered by that. Such people are responsible.

As for the first part of that quote:

Why are women responsible for carrying a child, who she did not consent to carrying, to birth...

Why? Because that is their lot in life. Just as it is the fate of Chinese people to breathe polluted air, and it was Phan's fate (see: Wikipedia's article on Phan Thi Kim Phuc) to be most well known for a photograph where she is naked. Phan didn't ask to have napalm splattered on her body. Yet she overcame the challenge: "Forgiveness made me free from hatred." "Napalm is very powerful, but faith, forgiveness, and love are much more powerful." Sumiteru Taniguchi's body (article) shows an 86 year old body that is severely affected a nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki when he was 16 years old. These tragedies may not be these people's fault, but they do need to live with them.

It's not "right" for the rape victim to need to suffer, just as it is not right that Ms. Phan or Mr. Sumiteru had to suffer, or for the Good Samaritan to need to pay a hotel owner. However, questions about unfairness, or why God may allow suffering, is beyond the scope of an argument focused on abortion. In the case of the rape victim, there does appear to be an option, but that option involves causing irreparable damage to the life of an unborn child, which Exodus 21:22-25 (already hyperlinked above) indicates should be protected.

  • It all comes down how much does being plugged to the violinist impact your life, right toogam? carrying a baby is natural but lying around a hospital bed hinders me from going about my life's work? Thank you Dec 30, 2015 at 19:59

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