…the Dorries bill does raise some interesting ethical complications. It shows up once more the way in which we justify our actions on the basis of a sort of squishy utilitarianism, which uses the rhetoric of the greatest happiness of the greatest number, but is in practice about the greatest happiness of the greatest person, ie me.
The subject of adoption, though, leads to the second part of this argument, which is that utilitarians should be thoroughly anti-abortion, so long as there are women happy to adopt unwanted babies.
In so far as we can measure these things (and it is a weakness of all this kind of talk that happiness can't in fact be measured or weighed and actually counted out), it's probable that the suffering of a woman who wants a child and can't have one is as great as that of a woman who doesn't want one and finds she's pregnant. It also lasts a lot longer.
So if we are interested in maximising happiness, or diminishing suffering, then unwanted pregnancies should be continued, and the babies given out to adoption. This is, of course, liable to be horrible for the natural mother. I know women who had to do this, and it was dreadful for them. But her suffering must be measured against the joy of the adoptive mother. That seems at least as great and goes on for a great deal longer. And of course the baby, if it had a vote, would presumably cast it in favour of being alive.
It's always an emotive issue, but Brown has had the courage to call out this “ethic” as a masquerade.