Stopping crime before it can happen

By Mike Butler
March 22, 2001

Everyone wants the truth, but not everyone likes it.

Case in point. Believe it or not, crime is down in America. The crime rate has been declining for almost a decade now. Is it because of gun control laws? Is it because of zero-tolerance policies, three-strikes-and-you’re-out laws, or new prisons being built? Possibly, but in an article I read by Sasha Ambramsky in The American Prospect two professors, John Donahue and Steven Levitt, have found solid evidence of another cause for the dropping crime rate: abortion.

In 1973, the Roe v. Wade decision was made and abortion became legal all across the United States. Eighteen years later in the early `90s the crime rates began to noticeably fall, especially and dramatically among young people. States that had legalized abortion before Roe v. Wade saw their crime rates drop sooner than in states that legalized it. Donahue and Levitt then concluded after thorough research and number crunching that abortion was a major cause of the crime rate dropping in America, accounting for “at least one-half of the overall crime reduction.”

Naturally this study, which will be published in the May issue of Harvard’s Quarterly Journal of Economics, has come under extreme criticism. Conservatives and liberals have labeled it as a racist report. There are three main factors that Donahue and Levitt’s study used: crime rates, abortion rates and poverty rates. Statistics show that African Americans have higher crime, abortion and poverty rates than Caucasians. So it is easy to jump to the conclusion that Donahue and Levitt are conceivably trying to blame African Americans as well as other minorities for crime in America.

But a closer look disproves that theory. When Donahue and Levitt began this study, their goal was to find out why America’s crime rate had dropped from a purely statistical standpoint. By accident, they found an undeniable correlation between abortion and crime. According to Donahue, their research found that “poor, unmarried, young, low-education women tend to have more abortions. And their kids tend to have higher rates of crime.” Before abortion was legal across America, Donahue and Levitt argue that more unwanted children were being born into “difficult, non-nurturing, impoverished environments,” thus these children would be more likely to engage in criminal activity. To back this claim, Donahue and Levitt cited studies in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe that stated “unwanted children are likely to be disproportionately involved in criminal activities.” So if there is one stance that this study is making is that, according to one of America’s leading criminal justice experts Alfred Blumstein, “poverty, neglect and crime are linked, that the much maligned ‘root cause’ arguments…can no longer be dismissed.” So as we can see this study is not racist, it is not a rallying cry against the poor and it is not saying that abortion is the cure to our crime problems. Rather this study is saying that poverty is the leading cause of crime in this country.

Although the study is unbiased on the subject of abortion, I am not. I am pro-choice and I find this story very pleasing as, in my own mind, it effectively deals a damaging blow to the political power of the pro-life movement in this country. Now being against abortion is practically saying that you are for crime.

Here’s something else to ponder: Republicans are traditionally pro-life, extremely tough on crime, and are known for being more interested in helping the wealthy than the poor. What this study does is make being a Republican an oxymoron, for how can you be tough on crime when you want to make the biggest factor in lowering crime illegal (abortion) and are unwilling to help dissipate the major root cause for crime (poverty)?

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Mike Butler

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