Essay question: When, if ever, is it permissible to have an abortion?

Daniel Groll
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This material was developed as part of the Carleton Teaching Activity Collection and is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


In this 5-page philosophy paper, students are asked to construct an argument for the permissibility or impermissibility of abortion, given the papers on that topic we read in class. The papers we looked at range across a whole series of considerations that are meant to show either that abortion is presumptively permissible or presumptively impermissible. Students must determine what they take the strongest argument for their view to be -- not necessarily the same as any of the arguments we looked at in class -- and then figure out how to construct an argument for it; consider what they take to be the strongest objection to their view; and then respond to it.

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Learning Goals

The goals of this assignment include: 1) making students familiar with the central arguments in the abortion debate, 2) having students improve on and/or consolidate their argument-construction skills by clearly stating a thesis, arguing for it and then defending it against a strong objection.

Context for Use

This is a 5-page paper for an entry-level philosophy class, although there's no reason it couldn't be used for a higher level class as well. This is the final question of the term, and so is a little more open ended than previous questions -- it is more open to students to figure out how to use the course materials to construct their arguments. Every other assignment to this point has been in a similar vein, but with a little more explicit direction in the prompt.

Description and Teaching Materials

The four papers we read in preparation for this assignment are:

1) Judith Jarvis Thomson, "A defense of abortion," available on JSTOR.
2) Michael Tooley, "Abortion and Infanticide", available on JSTOR.
3) Don Marquis, "An argument against abortion", available on JSTOR.
4) Jeff McMahan, Infanticide, from *Utilitas*, 2007.

Assignment for Abortion topic (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 58kB Dec6 10)

Teaching Notes and Tips


References and Resources