Daily Archives: December 10, 2009

Thinking of writing a term paper on abortion?

I strongly discourage my students from writing papers on “big issues” because students don’t understand how to properly narrow a topic . I try to get them to pick something as specific as possible.  To illustrate my point, I’ve composed a hand-out outlining all the issues to be considered under the topic of “abortion,” and, while I’m at it, the issues to be considered when thinking of using the Bible as a reference.

Thought I’d go ahead and put it out here.


Students often want to write about “big issues” like abortion.  I discourage it because these issues are so complicated.  I am providing this hand-out as an example of all the different things you’d need to consider if you wanted to write a paper “on abortion.”  These are just a list of issues that come to mind when thinking of the issue of abortion, as well as common arguments made about it on either side.  The idea here is to demonstrate the real complexity of the issue.  As you examine these questions, you will likely discover how you could easily do a paper on one of the subtopics.  For example, V.a.i.1.a lists a number of Bible verses that frequently come up in the abortion debate: some used by pro-lifers and some used by pro-choice people.  Simply analyzing all the verses I listed could be at least the topic of a research paper, if not a book—some of the specific verses have such a detailed history that one verse could be the topic of a research paper or at least a five paragraph essay.

  1. Topic Basics
    1. Definition of Abortion
    2. History of Abortion Procedures
    3. History of Abortion Laws
    4. Kinds of Abortions

                                                              i.      Chemical

                                                            ii.      Surgical

                                                          iii.      Other

  1. Human Development

                                                              i.      Trimesters

                                                            ii.      What constitutes conception?

                                                          iii.      What is an embryo?  A fetus?  A “pre-embryo”?

                                                          iv.      Viability

                                                            v.      “Quickening”

                                                          vi.      When does “human life” begin?

                                                        vii.      When do “human rights” begin?

  1. How do different cultures and religions today view abortion?
  2. How have different cultures and religions in the past viewed abortion?
  3. Abortion and contraception
  4. Reasons women have abortions
    1. Risks to their Health—what are the risks?  Alternatives?
    2. Possibilities of baby having genetic defect?  Accuracy of prenatal testing?
    3. Financial concerns
    4. Rape or incest
    5. Lack of support from the biological father
    6. Lack of support from parents, husband, family or whomever
    7. Familial and/or social pressure
  5. Risks of abortion
    1. Damage to woman’s reproductive system?
    2. Risks of death?
    3. Long term side effects?
    4. Emotional problems?  Does “post abortion syndrome” exist?
  6. Alternatives and other considerations
    1. Adoption
    2. Abstinence or Chastity?
    3. Does the father have a say?
    4. Counseling?  Charities?
    5. Does abortion after rape really help the woman? 
  7. “Pro-Life”
    1. Different reasons people oppose abortions

                                                              i.      Religious reasons (see also I.f and I.g above and “Arguing from the Bible” below)

  1. Does the Bible condemn abortion?
    1. Verses commonly cited on either side:
      Genesis 2:7, Genesis 25:21-23, Genesis 38:8-10, Genesis 38:24, Exodus 13:1-2, Exodus 20:13, Exodus 21:22-25, Numbers 5:11-31, Deuteronomy 30:19, Judges 11:29-40, 1 Kings 16:34, 2Kings 8:2, 2 Kings 16:3, 2 Kings 15:16, 2 Kings 17:17, 2 Kings 21:6, Isaiah 57:5, Jeremiah 1:5, Jeremiah 7:31, Proverbs 6:16-19, Psalm 127:3, Psalm 139:13-16, Jeremiah 1:4-5, Isaiah 66:9, Amos 1:13, Hosea 13:16, Luke 1:15, Luke 1:44, Luke 2:5
    2. Does the Bible also condemn contraception?  If the references to life or motherhood above are “anti-abortion,” then aren’t the references promoting large families also anti-contraception? 
    3. Is the Old Testament consistent about “Thou Shalt Not Kill”?
    4. Is the Old Testament a reliable source for Christian morals?
    5. Should Biblical morals be used as the basis for secular laws in a country with freedom of religion?
    6. What are other reasons Christians condemn abortion?
    7. What are other religions that oppose abortion?  Why?

                                                            ii.      Scientific reasons?

                                                          iii.      Ethical reasons without reference to religion?

                                                          iv.      Negative consequences for women?

  1. Different “pro-life” or “anti-Abortion” positions

                                                              i.      Ban all abortions and contraception, no exceptions

                                                            ii.      Ban all abortions, no exceptions

                                                          iii.      Ban abortion after a certain point in pregnancy

                                                          iv.      Exception for Life of mother?

                                                            v.      Exception for rape or incest?

                                                          vi.      Exception for health of mother?

                                                        vii.      Does the desire to overturn Roe v. Wade necessarily mean “anti-abortion?”  Pro-Life versus Pro-Constitution

                                                      viii.      Should abortion be outlawed at the federal level?

                                                          ix.      Should states have the choice free of federal interference?

                                                            x.      Parental notification, informed consent, regulation of abortion clinics, etc.

  1. “Pro-Choice”
    1. Reasons people are pro-choice or pro-abortion

                                                              i.      Greater freedom for women

                                                            ii.      Protection of women from “unsafe” abortions

                                                          iii.      Concerns about health of mother or child

                                                          iv.      Concerns about mental health of mother

                                                            v.      Does a fetus have any rights? What entitles people to basic human rights?

  1. Different “pro-choice” or “pro-abortion” positions

                                                              i.      “Personally opposed to abortion”

                                                            ii.      Freedom to choose

                                                          iii.      Abortion is a right or entitlement

                                                          iv.      Abortion is sometimes necessary

                                                            v.      “Pro-Choice” Libertarians? 

                                                          vi.      Should states decide or federal government?

                                                        vii.      Should government pay for abortions?  Or only in some circumstances?


I’ve touched on this subject above, but I wanted to give a list of considerations regarding “arguing from the Bible,” regardless of the issue is.  There is nothing wrong with using the Bible as a source, but there must be a clear reason for doing so.  This ties into the crucial concepts of audience and purpose.  For example, writing to a general audience and appealing to the Bible is probably not always the best way to go, but a paper addressed to Christians about a debate among Christians may use the Bible.

So, if you want to use the Bible as a source, consider:

  1. Does your audience accept the Bible as an authoritative source?
  2. What are the different ways the passage in question has been interpreted by Jewish and Christian scholars throughout the centuries?
  3. Is your usage or interpretation of the passage consistent with those established interpretations?
  4. What is the context of the passage?
  5. The Bible has many speakers and authors.  Whose opinion is being given in that particular passage?  Who wrote it?  For example, the Bible often quotes Satan.  
  6. Old or New Testament?  If it’s from the Hebrew Scriptures, does it necessarily apply to Christians?  If it’s from the New Testament, why should it apply to non-Christians?
  7. Does the Biblical principle reflect a wider cultural context, or a believe in other cultures?  (For example, “an eye for an eye” is also found in the Code of Hammurabi; the “Golden Rule” is taught by many moral codes, including that of Confucius).
  8. Is there another part of the Bible that offers a different viewpoint?
  9. What was the original application of the passage in question?  Its historical and cultural context?
  10. What translation are you using?  Have you compared other translations?