For those of you unfamiliar with what we are talking about, here is a little background first:
In 2005, economist Steven D. Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner released the hugely popular nonfiction book Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. In it, Levitt presented his economic theory that legalizing abortion had cut crime rates.
He reasoned that abortion reduces the number of unwanted children, thus reducing the number of unhappy children, and as a result lowering crime rates. He supported this hypothesis with impressive statistical calculations and graphs.
The theory quickly became political fodder for both sides of the abortion debate, but it quickly became clear that the theory and the statistics supporting it didn’t hold water. Those critical of the theory began to identify some major holes in Levitt’s calculations and assumptions. Steve Sailer, one of the theory’s chief opponents, provides a clear history of this debate here, if you want the full story.
Flash forward a few years and a new study is here to enter the debate and prove the exact opposite of Levitt’s theory. This study by John R. Lott Jr. and John Whitley of the American Enterprise Institute shows that not only did abortion not decrease crime rates, but it actually increased murder rates by 7 percent in the U.S.
By improving upon the methods used by Levitt, Lott and Whitley illustrated “a strong consistent positive relationship between abortion and murder.” More simply said, they found that when abortion increases, murder increases as well. According to their estimates, the legalization of abortion resulted in about 700 more murders per year by 1998—a 7.2 percent increase.
How do Lott and Whitley explain their correlation?
Where Levitt assumed abortion would decrease the number of unwanted children and therefore reduce crime, Lott and Whitley demonstrated that the legalization of abortion actually increased the number of children born to unwed mothers.
Combine this with the fact that young males born out-of-wedlock (wanted or not) are disproportionately responsible for violent crimes, and you have a national increase in murders. “[T]he net effect [of the legalization of abortion],” Lott and Whitely concluded, “appears to be a reduction in human capital and an increase in crime.”
This correlation surely does not make abortion any more reprehensible than it already is, but it definitely shoots down the argument that legal abortion improves outcomes for those children who do survive.