Good legislation looks out for ‘greater good’

We have all heard the phrase “Greatest good for the greatest number” originally “The greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation.” Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). In any case, it is a good basis for all action. Unfortunately, we have lately seen a lot of action that seems to be the greatest good for the select, like increasingly regressive taxes.

Abortion is generally a terrible thing to contemplate. It can be an adjective to describe some other thing as horrible. Now there is no doubt that the abortion is not in the best interest of the fetus unless perhaps it is destined to a life of pain and misery. There is little doubt that it is stressful for the potential mother. The amount of that stress has a lot to do with her relationship in the community. The other side of the argument has to do with the effect on the community of one abortion versus the consequences of denying abortion. Hardly anyone would deny that abortion is bad. It’s just that it can be less bad than some of the alternatives. The earliest argument against abortion was a woman’s obligation to produce subjects for the master.


Worst case, woman denied a medically necessary abortion dies. The fetus or child usually dies too. A family can be ripped apart. Children deprived of a mother, husband of a wife and so forth. Many people suffer in an attempt to save a potential human, who might not have had a good life.

More common case: Woman denied a legal abortion obtains an incompetent back-alley-abortion that goes bad. One reason abortion has such a bad name is that in the 19th century it was so risky that most physicians would have nothing to do with it. At best, if she lives, she is traumatized, never whole again. The fetus dies too and the extended family suffers; effects that can last decades.

Better but not too good outcome. She carries to term and produces a possibly unhealthy child because where is no safety net community to support her and the child. She and the child survive in misery, possibly dragging down the rest of the family. The child has a high probability of poor health, a life on welfare, or life of crime. The child has a slim chance of being adopted into a loving environment, or a cult.

There is of course a possibility of the ideal outcome, woman bears a healthy child into a welcoming family who can support and nourish him, but that’s not a realistic way to bet. Which outcome is in the best interest of a nation? Do we place the well-being of a single being, some describe as a human life and others describe as a parasite, over the well-being of a healthy woman, a family, a community or a nation?

If laws against abortion guaranteed that none would occur, and that something like the ideal outcome would be the norm, that might be an acceptable bargain. Studies have shown that like many other human behaviors, illegality only drives up the price and the risk of an unacceptable outcome. Pro-life militants need to be asked how many unwanted children they are willing to adopt; and how many have they adopted. By attempting to prevent abortion what they accomplish is asking the rest of us collectively (i.e. the state) to adopt those children. We all know how well that works out, orphanage, foster-parent, gangs, and maybe prison.


If we accept the obvious that women can occasionally become pregnant at a time and place that does not coincide with a desirable outcome; some will seek abortion. The decision is not whether or not abortions will occur it’s just a question of whether or not they will be safe, timely and affordable to those with the greatest need. The wealthy will always get what they want.

Ken Obenski is a forensic engineer, now safety and freedom advocate in South Kona. He writes a biweekly column for West Hawaii Today. Email