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Teaching about Abortion

Teaching about controversial, highly charged issues like abortion can be 
very difficult.  The following discussion, which took place on WMST-L in
March/April 1993, offers suggestions for how to deal in class with the topic 
of abortion.  For additional WMST-L files now available on the Web, see the
WMST-L File Collection. 
Date: Thu, 25 Mar 1993 21:27:00 CST
Subject: Teaching About Abortion
I am wondering if others who have included topics as controversial
as abortion could share their experiences on how to manage this in the
classroom.  I'm struggling with how best to present both sides
even though I have concerns about how fairly I can represent
an anti-choice view, given my own pro-choice position.  Since
abortion is not the only situation where this type of challenge
occurs for those of us in the classroom, perhaps the list
would be an appropriate forum for an exchange of views, rather
than private correspondence.  Thanks in advance, Karen Grant
(Dept. of Sociology, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada)
Date: Thu, 25 Mar 1993 23:35:26 EST
From: Barbara.Winkler AT UM.CC.UMICH.EDU
Subject: teaching about abortion
There is a video that I will be using in my intro class on abortion that
presents pro-choice and anti-abortion points of view called "Common
Ground on Abortion".  It's about a half hour in length.  I also think
it is useful to put the current controversies in historical perspective,
particularly changing conceptions (no pun intended) of when life
begins.  Am using Linda Gordon's *Woman's Body, Woman's Right* as one
of basis for my lecture.  Also CARASA pamphlet.
Barbara Scott Winkler, WVU  barbara. winkler   AT    um.cc.umich.edu
Date: Thu, 25 Mar 1993 22:26:21 -0600
Subject: Re: Teaching About Abortion
I have taught abortion as one among many topics (including lots of other
controversial ones, such as homosexuality, the death penalty, affirmative
action, etc.) in the context of introductory ethics classes.  One way
that seems to work well for me is to choose two articles falling on different
sides of the issue and work through the authors' arguments with the students.
I raise critical points about each article which I think helps the students
see that I am fair-minded enough to allow for a variety of views to be
expressed openly.  I also tell them what my views are and why, but I assure
them that they may write papers expressing views different from mine without
fearing a penalty.  Many philosophy articles are very good on this and help
open up the debate.  Most any intro ethics text includes a unit on abortion,
and I have a whole shelf of them in my office if anyone wants a ref.  One
article I like a lot is Jane English's "Abortion and the Concept of a Person."
My guess is that this topic probably plays out differently in the context of
different fields or courses.  For example because my ethics class is historical
I go into a fair amount of background about the natural law tradition and
why the Catholic and other religious traditions take the stand they do.
I suppose in a psych. class one might discuss it differently say by looking
at Gilligan's studies of women actually working through their abortion
decision.  One can also do a more political approach and discuss the privacy
right grounding of Roe v. Wade.  I have actually never had a class discusison
on abortion degenerate into shouting, name-calling etc.  (That happens more
with affirmative action, of all things.)  And I teach in the Bible Belt!
Cynthia Freeland
phil7   AT    jetson.uh.edu
Date: Fri, 26 Mar 1993 09:03:20 EST
From: Joya Misra <SOCAK663 AT EMUVM1.BITNET>
Subject: Re: Teaching About Abortion
When I took a class several years ago which touched on abortion, we
used two very interesting books -- Kristin Luker's book (of course)
and Mary Ann Glendon's book.  They provided interesting contrasts.
When I teach abortion, I let the students teach it.  I have my
students give group presentations throughout the term, and one of
the topics covered is abortion.  The students usually select them-
selves into the group.  This year, the group talked about abortion
in Ireland -- and did it in a talk-show format, with women represent-
ing the president of Ireland, a Catholic pro-life woman, leader of
a feminist organization, and a researcher on the topic (supposed to
be objective, but slightly pro-choice). This was an extremely balanced
presentation, accounting for important cultural differences, and
how these affect the meaning of the issue.  Students asking questions
of the group felt comfortable to approach it from various stand-
points, since the group members clearly respected different stand-
points.  I make it clear when meeting with the group that I expect
a balanced portrayal of the issue, and have never been disappointed.
Joya Misra (SOCAK663   AT    EMUVM1)
Date: Fri, 26 Mar 1993 09:42:00 EST
Subject: Re: Teaching About Abortion
In teaching about abortion in my Psychological Aspects of
Human Sexuality course, I try to engage the students in
a discussion of the realistic options after an unwanted
pregnancy for white college women (abort, keep baby,
or have baby adopted) and then for other groups
(black women, drug addicts, those with handicapped babies,
etc) showing that the option of adoption may not be
a realistic choice for many of them.  This whole
discussion follows a discussion of various forms of
birth control, showing that there is no fool-proof method.
! Irene Hanson Frieze              Bitnet:  FRIEZE   AT    PITTVMS
! Dept of Psychology               Internet:  FRIEZE   AT    VMS.CIS.PITT.EDU
! University of Pittsburgh         Phone:  (412) 624-4336
Date: Fri, 26 Mar 1993 09:41:32 EST
Subject: Re: Teaching About Abortion
I have to second Cynthia Freeland's comment that affirmative action discussions
are much more likely to degenerate into ugly scenes than abortion discussions,
at least in the classes I've had.  Indeed I have been surprised that in the
women's studies classes I teach (especially the intro) I have felt like I'm
preaching to the choir.  I've rarely had any anti-abortion students in the
class and often feel like I have to problematize the issue for them.  This last
term I was actually surprised that the majority opinion in my class (perhaps
the unanimous one) was that they were pro-choice but would never under any
circumstances have an abortion themselves.  That really surprised me for some
reason and I'm not entirely sure why.  The somewhat lagging discussion was
helped by a student whose mother was anti-abortion and an activist who herself
was moderately pro-choice.  She really attempted to explain without any rancor
some of the points of view of anti-abortion activists.  One thing that was also
surprising to me is that she told me she was unable to find *any* anti-abortion
material in our library.
Sometimes I try to make the issue a bit more difficult by raising issues that
are more problematic for me as a feminist--say abortion for sex selection,
using the example of India.  This helps sometime, by making the argument seem
less automatic and dogmatic.
Laurie Finke
finkel   AT    kenyon.edu
Date: Fri, 26 Mar 1993 10:05:00 EST
Subject: teaching about abortion
     I am quite pleased to see this as a topic, since I am doing
this lecture on Monday.  I gave my Psych of Women students
a choice of 4 topics for the Women's Health lecture, and
the chose abortion over AIDS, PMS, and contraception.
To be honest, doing this lecture makes me nervous because
I am worried a shouting match may occur (although I did it
once before and it worked out well).  Since most of my
students are aged 20 or younger, I am showing a segment
from Jane Pratt, who had young people from both sides
(a sidewalk "counselor" and a clinic escort).   This
is the least biased and most updated thing I have on abortion
(the show was aired last week).  For
those of you who are not familiar with Jane Pratt, she is
the editor of Sassy, and her show on Lifetime is geared to young adults.
My students must be aware of my attitude about abortion, given
that that they have been sitting in my class for two months
now.  I recognize that I should be honest about my
convictions, but also convey  that I respect "opposing" opinions.
However, should I tell my class that I am a clinic escort?
I think this may be relevant, especially if we discuss race.
I have seen sidewalk "counselors" completely ignore
black women going into clinics, while pleading with white
women not to "kill their baby".  I think it may also be
relevant when discussing clinic protests.  I would appreciate
any feedback on this (rather soon since the lecture is on
I think many people on the list would be interested, so
post any suggestions on the list, rather than directly to me.
     Christine Smith
     csmith   AT    vms.cis.pitt.edu
Date: Fri, 26 Mar 1993 09:32:00 PST
From: SusanKullmannPuz <SKPUZ AT BEACH1.CSULB.EDU>
Subject: Re: Teaching About Abortion
History/Women's STudies students have found Carroll Smith-
Rosenberg's _The Abortion Movement and the AMA, 1850 - 1880_
(in _Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America_,
pp. 217-244) an enlightening examination of the issue from an
historical pov. The article describes how abortion became a mass
POLITICAL issue in America for the first time during the late
(19th-century Victorian era, and places the newly-emerging
professional medical elite (rather than the clergy) at the fore-
front of American anti-abortion sentiment.
Susan Kullmann Puz
Women's STudies/History
CSU, Long Beach
SKPUZ   AT    beach 1.csulb.edu  Internet
Date: Fri, 26 Mar 1993 12:48:16 EST
Subject: Re: Teaching About Abortion
The "official" anti-choice position explicitly identifies the fetus as
a person, therefore abortion as the killing of a person; and implicitly
defines the killing of a person as murder.  Unofficially, beyond the
bounds of their rhetoric, sociological inquiry reveals that anti-
choice people are rarely inclined to define all killins of people as
murder (i.e, they tend to be supportive of military excursions such as
Operation Desert Storm, domestic agendas inclusive of lethal violence
such as the death penalty or greater freedom of police officers to use
lethal force at their discretion, etc).  From a theoretical standpoint,
the equation of killing with murder looks weak, inconsistent, and in
need of further explication.
To make it even-handed, you can point out that the pro-choice rhetoric
in the years since Roe v. Wade has often taken an official line of
automatic support of and compliance with the law, whatever the law is,
and implying that the anti-choice people are interfering with women's
legitimate access to legal procedures of abortion, FOR WHICH REASON it
is horrible and oppressive of them.  Again, sociological inquire can
reveal a much lower devotion to the law of the land per se on the part
of pro-choice partisans and a ready willingness to engage in protests
and civil disobedience of their own when it seems appropriate.  The
weak point in their theoretical position is that law has primary moral
Having let some of the air out of the balloons of the official rhetoric,
you can then invoke a lot of sociological notions such as latent
functions of laws and moral belief systems and consider the role of
abortion in establishing reproductive authority, and of reproductive
authority in constructing gender and sexuality; you can look at the
tie between anti-choice politics and the more general tendency to seek
a return to the moral and social gender-climate of the 1950's, using
the rhetoric of Randall Terry and Cardinal O'Connor of NY Catholic
diocese on proper gender arrangements, sexual behaviors, birth control,
and so on; similarly, you can present feminist criticisms of sexual
arrangements such as marriage, the institutions of heterosexuality,
the sexual double standard, and the theory that the larger social
structures such as capitalism and hierarchical authority have their
roots and the sources of their power over individuals in these ways
of organizing sexuality and reproduction.  You can argue that the
pro-choice feminists and anti-choice patriarchalists are actually in
agreement about most of this once you look at what they REALLY think
it is all about--they just happen to be on opposite sides of the big
moral and political questions.
I had pretty good luck with that in a class of Long Island undergrads
(it's a heavily Catholic area with moderately good exposure to the
simple rhetoric of both sides but low familiarity with the larger
concepts of which the proponents are fond).
- Allan Hunter / Dept of Sociology / SUNY    AT     Stony Brook
 <ahunter   AT    sbccvm>
 <ahunter   AT    ccvm.sunysb.edu>
Date: Fri, 26 Mar 1993 15:06:43 -0800
From: jgoodwin AT NEVADA.EDU
Subject: Teaching About Abortion
I'm using a hypercard program in my women's history survey this term.  It
provides students with sets of arguments and accompanying references.
Periodically, the program has students make a choice about a series of issues:
rights, natural law arguments, etc.  Then the program reflects back the
students choices and counter arguments to them.  The point of the program
is to get students to Think About Abortion (also the title of the software)
and perhaps the contradictions within their own minds.  If you are interested
in the program, I'll be glad to respond individually.
jgoodwin   AT    nevada.edu
Date: Sat, 27 Mar 1993 00:24:13 EST
From: "Odeana R. Neal,
              Univ. of Baltimore School of Law" <EASLNEAL   AT    UBE.BITNET>

Subject: RE: teaching about abortion
I've been thinking for a while that abortion
rights should be thought about in an equal protection
context and I believe that Ruth Colker has recently
written a book about this.  In other words, in what
other contexts are people (i.e., men) forced to
sacrifice their bodies for the benefit of someone
else?  If a man's child needs a kidney or bone marrow
transplant, the father can refuse to be a donor.
I think that it can be helpful to try to analogize
uniquely women's issues (because if they're unique
you can come up with unique restrictions, right?)
to issues that affect men as well.
            Odeana Neal, Univ. of Baltimore School of Law
Bitnet:    easlneal   AT    ube                       Voice:  410-625-3081
Internet:  easlneal   AT    ube.ub.umd.edu            FAX:    410-539-6707
Date: Sat, 27 Mar 1993 09:55:06 EST
From: Barbara.Winkler AT UM.CC.UMICH.EDU
Subject: Teaching about Abortion
We will be teaching our health/reproduction unit week after next.  I know
from our unit on heterosexism and homophobia that we have a number of
conservative christians in our Introduction to Women's Studies class here
at WVU - however, our lesbian, bi-sexual, gay panel was relatively good
on process and so most students felt the outspoken fundamentalists were
"rude."  So, I'm not expecting a shouting match, but certainly not
uniformity of opinion on abortion.  In discussion we have students doing
student-led presentations but they can choose any topic they want and
may not do abortion.  Our video, as I mentioned in a previous e-mail
message, "Common Ground on Abortion" tries to present different points
of view.
barbara. winkler   AT    um.cc.umich.edu
Date: Sun, 28 Mar 1993 10:27:35 EST
From: Jo Ellen Green Kaiser <JGKAIS00 AT UKCC.UKY.EDU>
Subject: Teaching about abortion
A new play about abortion is premiering currently at the Actor's Theatre
in Louisville Kentucky.  Titled "Keely and Du," written by playwright
Jane Martin, the play explores both sides of the abortion issue with great
sensitivity.  Best of all, the anti-choice and the pro-choice women in
this play find a common ground as women, though they do not manage to
reconcile their ideological differences.  I think the script of this play,
which I suppose will become available and could be gotten now from Actor's
Theatre, would make an excellent text for teaching the abortion debate.
Date: Mon, 29 Mar 1993 10:33:00 EST
Subject: Re: Teaching About Abortion
In the American Sociological Association's The Soc of Sex and Gender
there is an excellent essay by Barrie Thorne, called Teaching
about Abortion.  She has a brief lecture outline, and then an
exercise that explores both positions.  She also has lots of
readings.  I used her suggestions with great success.  I spent
two weeks on abotion in my Women and Law Class, and a week and a half
inmy soc of law class (using Tribe's Abortion a clash of absolutes)
I found the new edition of Abortion Medicine and the law to be
very helpful in writing lectures.  One thing that surprised me
was how ignorant/unclear students were about conception and
fetal development, so I ended up going over some pretty basic
material that was in Aboriton Med etc.
Pat Murphy, Murphy   AT    geneseo
Date: Mon, 29 Mar 1993 11:14:48 -0500
Subject: RE: Teaching About Abortion
In the context of a Communication Theory Course, I have approached the
issue of abortion, and other similar conroversial topics, as a symbolic
issue. I do make it clear that I don't believe the only source of
conflict is over definitions of highly abstract symbols (e.g. "Life"),
but that those kinds of struggles over definitions certainly make
such conflicts difficult to resolve. We discuss denotative vs. connotative
meanings, feminist vs. non-feminist definitions, who has the power to
define, and similar issues. And we discuss the ways in which our language
choices sometimes force us into polarized positions, when our experience
of "reality" is often more on a continuum. If you would like more specific
information on what I've done, feel free to contact me.
Jeanne Posner
Date: Mon, 29 Mar 1993 09:11:24 -0700
Subject: Re: Teaching About Abortion
A useful historical article is Leslie J. Reagan, "'About to Meet Her Maker:
Women, Doctors, Dying Declarations, and the State's Investigation of Abortion,
Chicago, 1867-1940," Journal of American History 77 (March 1991):  1240-1264
It investigates the sometimes lethal consequences for working class women of
the state's mechanisms for enforcing abortion law.  It also looks at the
means whereby doctors were forced to conform to the law.
Karen Anderson
karena   AT    ccit.arizona.edu
Date: Mon, 29 Mar 1993 22:35:31 -0700
From: nancy felipe russo <ATNFR AT ASUACAD.BITNET>
Subject: abortion teaching
When teaching about abortion, it is important to present the full facts about
  prenatal development, which are totally misrepresented by prolifers who
  appear to believe in the theory of preformation, the 20-week old fetus
  the model from fertilization on.  Walbret & Butler's Abortion, Medicine
  and the Law has a chapter by Michael Flowers that summarizes important
Nancy Felipe Russo, Ph.D.
Director, Women's Studies
ASU, Tempe, AZ 85287-1801
(602)965-2358 FAX:(602)965-2357 BITNET: ATNFR   AT    ASUACAD
Date: Mon, 5 Apr 1993 13:10:00 CDT
Subject: Teaching About Abortion
I asked a few weeks ago about teaching about abortion.  I thought
I would share a useful resource guide with the list for the
benefit of others on-line.
Muldoon, Maureen
*The Abortion Debate in the United States and Canada: A Source Book*.
New York: Garland, 1991.
This book contains the following kinds of very useful information
that are very helpful:
(1) recent use rates of abortion in both countries
(2) public opinion polls on abortion
(3) annotated bibliographies (very selective) in the sociological
    and philosophical literature
(4) official positions from various religious organizations,
    including church and synagogue statements
(5) official positions from advocacy groups, both pro- and
(6) legal cases of note in Canada and the U.S., including
    Roe v. Wade, Webster v. Reproductive Health Services,
    R vs Morgantaler, Bill C-43, Chantal Daigle Supreme
    Court Decision, etc.
I found this book quite helpful, as I expect others will.
Best regards, Karen Grant
University of Manitoba
Date: Thu, 15 Apr 1993 09:15:35 CDT
Subject: Re: teaching about abortion
I very much agree with Jessica Weinberg.  I'd go on to add that "pro-choice" &
"pro-life" are slogans rather than positions, the sort of binary oppossition we
are forced into, rather than positions we to which we really adhere.  In  deal-
ing with abortion in class, I always try to deconstruct this opposition, to
get at the point that slogans don't adequately represent life as we really live
it.  In the past, I've found Marge Piercy's novel BRIADED LIVES very useful.
Students become involved with the characters and their lives long before they
come to see the novel as an account of the movement to legalize abortion.
Bob Bender
University of Missouri-Columbia
engbob   AT    mizzou1

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