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With Republicans succeeding in making abortion impossible in many red states, will we see a spike in crime in 15 years or so?
Steven D. Levitt’s 2004 paper, “Understanding Why Crime Fell in the 1990s: Four Factors That Explain the Decline and Six That Do Not” published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives; offered a unique, unexpected explanation for at least part of what caused the violent crime curve to suddenly reverse course in the USA. After 40 years of a steady and disturbing climb, beginning in the 1990s violent crime suddenly begin to drop, and not just drop but plummet. Levitt’s thoughts and statistical analysis of this trend and other interesting issues went into a book he coauthored with writer, Stephen J. Dubner in 2005, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explored the Hidden Side of Everything. I strongly recommend the book if you haven’t read it. It’s full of surprises and rebukes to “common wisdom” and sure to make you think. But back to the question regarding Levitt’s thoughts and statistical analysis of the link between crime and abortions.
By the early 1990’s, violent crimes of all kinds had been on a steady increase for most of the last 40 years, and all the “experts” were warning that unless we deployed a vast army of police equipped with new powers to search and seize without warrant, things would soon get much, much worse. But we did not deploy an army of super-cops armed with powers to shred the Constitution, and unlike what all the experts predicted, crime did not double yet again in the decade leading up to the new millennium. Instead it fell, and rather dramatically. What’s more, all forms of violent crimes fell. It wasn’t just the murder rate; it was also assaults with a deadly weapon, aggravated assaults, armed robberies, domestic violence, kidnapping, and rape. All violent crime declined and rapidly.
Much to the anger of abortion foes, Levitt attributes most of this drop to an unmarried Dallas teenager named Norma McCorvey. It was her legal challenge, as a pregnant, unmarried teen; to the Texas state prohibitions against abortion that eventually worked its was to the Supreme Court Of The United States. By then, her name had been replaced by a pseudonym, Jane Roe. And the SCOTUS’ opinion in Roe v. Wade changed life in America for women facing an unwanted pregnancy. Whatever your feelings on the matter, you have to admit that criminalizing abortion impacted women who were poor, young and ill-prepared for parenting far more than it did affluent, adult women who could afford to travel and get abortions where they were legal, and who could handle parenting should they decide to carry the baby to term. And the women who suddenly didn’t have to give birth when they were nowhere near able to care for a child were the women most likely to make poor parents. They were the women most likely to ignore, mistreat or even abandon a child. They were the women most likely to be drunk or on drugs, and to have violent boyfriends in their households. They were the women most likely to raise young criminals. A sudden drop of up to 1.5 million likely new criminals being born each year made a difference in crime. A whole generational cohort of likely new criminals didn’t get born.
Levitt applies the statistical analysis tools of economics to look at the other factors affecting crime as well. Some of the drop in crime can be chalked up to more police on the streets, but not much. Some may be tracked to more innovative policing, but again, not much. Gun law proponents claimed gun laws did it, but the effect of those can be shown to be negligible at best, and in some cases counterproductive. Other proposed factors can be shown by statistical analysis to have no relation to the crime rate’s drop.
Like it or not; safe, legal abortion led to a very substantial drop in violent crime. So it’s a safe bet that making abortion impossible for the young and poor women least able to properly care for a newborn baby will drive violent crime back up. It will likely drive it way up. Is that reason enough to keep abortion safe and legal? And if is, in your opinion, not reason enough; what steps should we take to deal with the unintended consequences of re-criminalizing abortion?