Computers & Texts No. 16/17
Table of Contents
Winter 1998

The Issue of Abortion in America

An explanation of a social controversy on CD-ROM

Mairi Levitt
Centre for Professional Ethics
University of Central Lancashire

Platform: Macintosh or Windows
Requirements: Multimedia PC or Macintosh with at least 8 MB RAM; CD-ROM drive
Available from: Routledge, 11 Fetter Lane, London EC4P 4EE. Email: URL: ISBN 0-415-18449-5.
Price: £40.00 +VAT
Produced by: Robert Cavalier, Preston Covey, Elizabeth Style and Andrew Thompson

Screenshot from The Issue of Abortion

Fig. 1. The opening screen from The Issue of Abortion

The Issue of Abortion in America provides video clips of women talking about their own experiences and background information from different perspectives. Users are able to record their own views and responses to the situations in which real women have found themselves. Under the categories of congenital abnormality, rape, contraceptive failure and teen pregnancy, ten women (and two male partners) describe their own circumstances and feelings leading up to their decision to continue or terminate their pregnancy. Background information covers the historical and legal background, philosophical and religious arguments and medical 'facts'.

The theme of the resource is that whilst there is a tendency for discussions on abortion to polarise into the pro-life and pro-choice camps, there is common ground to be found. Users register their votes on the permissibility of abortion in different circumstances before responding to specific questions on the case studies designed to focus attention on actual cases rather than general rhetoric. Responses made before and after viewing a specific case can be compared on screen and saved. Although polarisation on the abortion issue may be less evident in the UK than the USA, listening to women talk about their own situations is a helpful and still novel way to spark off discussion whether or not students have entrenched views. The programme ends with a section on methods of conflict resolution.

The historical and legal background, although interesting, are inevitably less pertinent to the UK user. This is unfortunate as the legal section particularly lends itself to the CD-ROM format . Sound extracts from court proceedings bring the arguments alive and recreate some of the tension of the debate for those who do not know the outcome, of, for example the Roe versus Wade case. The philosophical, religious and historical arguments are clear but basic, and a reading list is provided including relevant web sites.

Screenshot 2 from The Issue of Abortion

Fig. 2. Abortion and the Philosophical Arguments

The Issue of Abortion in America is one of a series of CD-ROMs designed to bring ethical theory 'to the ground in observable, palpable, affecting contexts'. The CD-ROM seems to have rather a simplistic view of 'facts' as separable from theoretical context but this itself could help students reflect critically on the way a theoretical perspective can shape the facts. The CD-ROM would be useful for students beginning to study philosophy or on courses on nursing and medical ethics. It might also have a place on sociology, social policy or women's studies courses where the social context in which women make their decisions could be interrogated more critically than in the program itself.

The use of the CD-ROM in teaching requires careful planning and suggestions are provided. Simply lending the CD-ROM to individual students would probably require more stamina and exclusive use of a PC than could be realistically expected. Students could perhaps view one case study and answer the questions which would take them at least half an hour. There is an archive of all the case study clips which would provide easier access if used in teaching. The speed of loading different sections and pages was slow on a PC, even with all other applications shut down and more than 8 MB of free RAM. This may irritate those students and lecturers who are used to the pace of games software!

[Table of Contents] [Letter to the Editor]

Computers & Texts 16/17 (1998). Not to be republished in any form without the author's permission.

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Document Created:22 December 1998
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