One of the fundamental questions in criminology is what causes crime. There are many answers; economic conditions, political policy, and social psychological answers such as “broken windows” theory.
“We offer evidence that legalized abortion has contributed significantly to recent crime reductions. Crime began to fall roughly 18 years after abortion legalization. The 5 states that allowed abortion in 1970 experienced declines earlier than the rest of the nation, which legalized in 1973 with Roe v. Wade. States with high abortion rates in the 1970s and 1980s experienced greater crime reductions in the 1990s. In high abortion states, only arrests of those born after abortion legalization fall relative to low abortion states. Legalized abortion appears to account for as much as 50 percent of the recent drop in crime.”
You can find a less academic and fuller explanation here. In short, because there are fewer unwanted or unplanned babies, and assuming that these children, raised in a poor environment, are the ones most likely to become criminals, abortion policy leads to a reduction in the overall crime rate.
The findings are widely disputed, mostly because it’s difficult to control for other factors that influence the crime rate. It’s not that these authors didn’t try to control for the other factors, but that they are not able to do so satisfactorily. These are not bad scholars, but I think they’re headed down the wrong road in this research.
This theory is not arcane, as the Slate article above attests. Part of the reason it’s so controversial, I suppose, are the policy implications. What do we do? Kill babies to stop future crime? It ignores all sense of decency and it ignores all sorts of research that disputes their findings.
We now have former education secretary William Bennett. Here’s what he said on a radio show:
“If you wanted to reduce crime, you could — if that were your sole purpose — you could abort every black baby in this country and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossibly ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.”
The statement, of course and rightfully so, has been lambasted by just about everyone. Even if he prefaced it with the theoretical background above, it’s still wrong. The abortion and crime theory is not a racial theory in any way. It does not assume that aborting babies of any particular race will lead to a reduction in crime. Unfortunately, Bennett got the theory wrong, turned it into a racial argument, and will now probably get stacks of hate mail.
I guess the old addage “think before you speak” is the lesson, here. It’s harder to do, I suppose, when you’re on the radio and have to fill out a few hours of dead air.