NRL News

The Disproven argument that won’t go away: Abortion Lowers Crime

by | Nov 19, 2012

By Dave Andrusko

Steven Levitt

The headline to the opinion piece that appeared over the weekend in The State Journal-Register of Springfield, Illinois read, “An overlooked perspective on abortion.” Two paragraphs in and you quickly realize that a more proper headline would have been, “A recycled and repeatedly debunked study that appeals to our worst instincts to justify abortion.”

The author’s name is not important, but her argument is. She begins by telling readers she’d vowed to discontinue her subscription to the newspaper if it “printed one more letter on the subject of abortion.” But her “discovery” was so important she violated her own rule. And that would be?

Quoting from a much-debunked 2001 paper published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics which was turned into a book that “[A]bortion was one of the greatest crime-lowering factors in American history,” that is,  “… The crime drop [in the early 1990s] was … an ‘unintended benefit’ of legalized abortion.”

This ugly conclusion is a hardy perennial. It will NOT go away, for reasons that do not speak well for its proponents. Allusions to the thesis make their way into places you’d never suspect.

For example, as Ben Johnson writes at “UN population report cites discredited ‘Freakanomics’ abortion study,” it’s found as a source in the United Nations Population Fund’s annual report–“By Choice, Not By Chance,” –which “is puzzling,” Johnson writes, “as the UNFPA document is putatively about birth control, not abortion.”

Authors John Donohue and Steven Levitt “argued that following the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, thousands of unwanted fetuses were aborted instead of being born into less-than-ideal environments, thereby producing two decades later a reduction in the pool of at-risk, violence-prone individuals,” according to James Alan Fox, the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy at Northeastern University in Boston.

The thesis was wrong empirically on a host of grounds, as we explained over the course of a decade. Just to take a couple of considerations, last year Fox wrote “nearly 60% of the decline in murder since 1990 involved perpetrators ages 25 and older—individuals who would have been born prior to the landmark abortion decision.”

And, as NRLC’s Dr. Randall k. O’Bannon has observed, “Crime did fall in the 1990s, but the late ’80s and early ’90s saw a dramatic increase in homicide rates among the young. Ironically – – given the very favorable treatment the original study received in the media – – these researchers say, if anything, abortion is associated with more, not less crime, and with a higher murder rate in particular.”

Not surprisingly, although the linkage has been delinked and debunked numerous times, Levitt still holds to the contention which is a kind of poster only Planned Parenthood could love: if you’re unwanted, you’re headed for a life of crime. You may or may not be better off dead than unwanted, Levitt and Donahue argued, but “society” is.

It’s deeply regretful that this “connection” lingers. Abortion does not lower crime. It is a crime against the better angels of our nature.

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Categories: Abortion