An Early Confucian Perspective on Abortion: Evaluation of Abortion Law and Policy in Hong Kong


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Kwok Leung CHAU


Awarding Institution
Award date8 Dec 2015


The concern about abortion is conspicuous: since procreation is a matter of basic concern in every human society, it is always inevitable for people to question whether abortion is permissible. Although the issue of abortion has been much discussed, it remains one of the most contentious and decisive contemporary issues. It is typically assumed that abortion is fundamentally a moral problem, that it shall be resolved by articulating a moral position or normative judgment to determine the moral permissibility of abortion: once abortion is determined to be morally permissible or impermissible, law and policy can be formulated to permit or prohibit abortion thereafter. The salience of this view is best referred to in the United States where most people arrive at their position regarding the issue of abortion mainly by making moral decisions about the moral status or the rights of the pregnant woman and the human fetus. The result of a deadlock between pro-life and pro-choice positions, however, does not resolve the issue of abortion. Rather, the issue of abortion has been considered as intractable or even unsolvable. Apart from the insistence of resolving the issue of abortion with the concerns given on the moral status of the pregnant woman and the human fetus, two approaches have emerged in recent discussion of abortion. The first one considers abortion not as a moral issue but a political one, and it attempts to address the issue by relying on the examination of the effect of abortion law and policy. The second one maintains the practice that the issue of abortion shall be resolved by moral inquiry, yet scholars tune to pay attention on concerns other than the rights of the pregnant woman and the human fetus. Although much has been written on these approaches, I have yet to be convinced that any one position provides a proper way to resolve the issue of abortion. It is my objective in this dissertation to explore and argue for an early Confucian position, drawing on its rich resources emphasizing the notion of virtue, as to resolve the issue of abortion.
In the course of this dissertation, I first deal with the issue of abortion. In this part, the traditional Western discussion of the issue of abortion is first examined, and I attempt to demonstrate that the right-based approach, which is represented by the pro-life and pro-choice ideological extremes, does not resolve the issue but leading to an impasse so great that abortion has become an issue that is considered as unsolvable. It follows by the discussion of two approaches made in the literature responding to the deadlock of the issue: one turns to address abortion as political issue while the other maintains to resolve abortion by moral inquiry. I contest against the former approach by showing that moral discussion is necessary for and inseparable from public policy making. Two particular concerns regarding abortion, namely the maternal-fetal relationship and the notion of virtue are at last discussed, and I aim to highlight the plausibility of the employment of early Confucian ethics to address the issue of abortion. The second part of this dissertation pays attention to early Confucian ethics, in particular, how it, as a virtue ethics theory, addresses the issue of abortion. A basic account of the so called early Confucian virtue ethics is first presented. It follows with responses I made to the challenges towards early Confucian ethics. After all, I attempt to demonstrate how the issue of abortion is addressed by early Confucian ethics. At last, this dissertation is evaluates the Hong Kong abortion law and policy, and recommendations are made with reference to the ethical ideas explored in early Confucian ethics.