Chinese Moral Perspectives on Abortion and Foetal Life: An Historical Account
New Zealand Bioethics Journal 2002 October; 3(3): 15-31
It is accepted wisdom that, at the present time as well as historically, the typical Chinese attitude toward abortion is very permissive or 'liberal'. It has been widely perceived that Chinese people usually do not consider abortion morally problematic and that they think a human life starts at birth. As a part of a bigger research project on Chinese views and experiences of abortion, this article represents a revisionist historical account of Chinese moral perspectives on abortion and foetal life, the possible moral foundation of a 'conservative' Confucian position, and some historical features of abortion laws and policies in twentieth-century China, this paper shows that blanket assumptions that the Chinese view of abortion has always been permissive are historically unfounded. As in the present, there existed different and opposing views about abortion in history, and many Chinese, not only Buddhists but also Confucians, believed that deliberately terminating pregnancy is to destroy a human life which starts far earlier than at birth. The current dominant and official line on the subject does not necessarily accord with historical Chinese values and practices.
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