Key Constitutional Issues of the Abortion Debate
- Understand the balance of power that is at the heart of our federalist system
- Evaluate which level of government -- state or national -- should have authority over social and legal issues
Copies of Discussion Questions
Copies of the Student Handout: "Who Should Decide What?"
10 to 20 minutes for class discussion
40 minutes for the classroom activity
The teacher writes the 10th Amendment on the board and conducts a class discussion.
"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
10th Amendment, United States Constitution
- Why do you think the framers of the Constitution included this amendment in the Bill of Rights? What were their concerns?
- After their negative experiences under British control, many Americans were concerned about creating a national government that was too powerful.
- Differences about the size and role of the federal government created a lot of conflict over the Constitution. The anti-Federalists insisted on enumerated protections (the Bill of Rights) to limit the national government.
- In your own words, what does this amendment protect?
- What powers do you know of that are solely delegated to the national government?
- A Venn diagram of two overlapping circles on the chalkboard can help to illustrate separate vs. shared powers.
- Federal powers include: the power to coin money; regulating interstate or foreign commerce; making treaties; declaring war; regulating the post office.
- How do we know that these powers are delegated to the national government?
- They are enumerated in the Constitution.
- What powers do you know of that are "reserved" to the states?
- Powers delegated to the states include: education; intrastate commerce; licenses for driving, the professions, and marriage.
- What powers are shared between the federal and state governments?
- Shared powers include: taxes; enforcement of laws; protection.
- Think about how much society has changed since the framers ratified the Constitution in the 18th century. What issues exist in our society today that the framers did not designate as a federal power, a state power or a shared power?
- Responses should be as exhaustive as possible. Encourage students to think about their own lives. For example, if they are taking a driving exam, which level of government administers it? If you are driving through several states, does the speed limit change?
- Divide the class into groups of four to six students and distribute the "Who Should Decide What?" list.
- Assign half of the groups to create arguments that states should have authority over particular issues and assign the other half to create arguments that authority should rest with the federal government. Remind students to avoid debates about whether or not these behaviors should be legal. Topics they will discuss include: the driving age, the drinking age, euthanasia, marriage, the death penalty, marijuana for medical use, and abortion.
- After 10 to 15 minutes of preparation, reconvene as a class. Call out an issue from the "Who Should Decide What?" list. Still in either state or federal character, the groups will debate with each other. After three minutes, call out another issue. Continue working your way down the list.
As a final activity, invite students to be themselves. Again, go through the "Who Should Decide What?" list and conduct a hand vote for each issue as to whether it falls under state or federal authority. (Now students can vote according to their personal opinions.) The last vote should concern abortion. Finally, encourage students who have seen the film to think about The Last Abortion Clinic. After voting, elicit class responses as to whether the states or the federal government should determine the parameters and/or restrictions for abortion and why.
Method of Assessment:
Students will take one debatable topic from the class activity for further research. Students will prepare a two page "brief" outlining how the federal government and state(s) government came into conflict over this issue and how it was resolved.