Abortion Study Provokes Criticism and Silence
By Christine Hall
CNSNews.com Staff Writer
May 17, 2001
(CNSNews.com) - A study linking abortion to a drop in the national crime rate has prompted renewed criticism from pro-life advocates and silence from abortion rights proponents, who are reluctant to address the matter once again.
"I would say that we should not be thinking about policy implications from this study, because we should still be talking about whether this story is accurate," said Ed Szymkowiak, national director of the American Life League's "STOPP International."
In the May 2001 issue of the Quarterly Journal of Economics, researchers John J. Donohue III and Steven D. Levitt theorize that a criminal element is being weeded out of society since abortion was legalized in 1973 because a greater portion of black women have abortions than white women.
"Given that the homicide rates of black youths are roughly nine times higher than those of white youths," the authors wrote, a reduction in black births has caused the crime rate to drop by up to 50 percent.
The study caused a stir in 1999, when its authors first made their findings public.
Szymkowiak doubts that the Donahue-Levitt study is an accurate analysis of why the crime rate in America went down. "It's too simplistic," he said. "And in a lot of the reports, they've managed to offend almost everyone. There're racial implications in there that are offensive, independent from the abortion issue."
"The crime drop was a result of the prison expansion movement, changing drug use (the crack epidemic which waxed and waned), increased gun control and intervention efforts, changes in adult and juvenile homicide rates, changes in policing, the labor market, the economy (which got better), and a change in the demographic age group," said Szymkowiak, citing a recently published book, The Crime Drop in America, authored by prominent criminal justice experts.
"Donahue and Levitt don't have a good explanation for the huge increase in the 14 to 17-year-old murder rate in 1993," added Szymkowiak.
"In a footnote, they admit there's an inconsistency between their predictions and the time series data that's there, but they don't have a legitimate explanation for it," he said.
On their part, abortion rights advocates appear more reluctant to re-hash the 1999 study. Several groups did not return calls seeking comment.
A National Abortion Federation spokeswoman said her organization is not commenting on the story, and a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Federation of America referred to a 1999 commentary by PPFA President Gloria Feldt.
"We shouldn't dismiss this study," wrote Feldt.
"After all, it offers evidence that Roe v. Wade is a success" because "a landmark study conducted in Czechoslovakia found that children born to women who were denied abortions were more likely ... to have health problems, to under-perform in school and, yes, to commit crimes," she wrote.
The majority of crimes are not committed by "the children of teens, unmarried women and African-Americans, Feldt hastened to add.
"A closer look at the study, however, reveals another explanation - the reproductive choices afforded by legal abortion enable women to be better parents when they do have children," said Feldt.
She accused "anti-choice" critics of the Donohue-Levitt paper of "perhaps revealing their own racism" by seeming to be "wedded to the idea that criminals are born."
The racial implications of the Donahue-Levitt study are likely a subject particularly sensitive to Planned Parenthood, given that PPFA's founder, Margaret Sanger, "entertained some popular ideas of her own time that are out of keeping with our thinking today," as the group's web page puts it.
Some classify Sanger's 1930s-era beliefs -- and the conclusions of the Donahue-Levitt study -- as "eugenics," the study of hereditary improvement of the human race by controlled selective breeding.
Like Feldt, Szymkowiak urges people to focus on policies that promote wanted pregnancies - but without abortion.
"Donahue and Levitt point to other research showing that neglect factors are more likely to make criminality more likely, but there are a lot of kids being aborted that would certainly never grow up to be criminals, and you don't know which is which," he said.
"If a child is born and suffers neglect from parents and is unwanted, shouldn't the social policy be to encourage adoption? Shouldn't it be to encourage mothers to spend more time with their kids?" Szymkowiak asked.
"Those are the type of solutions we should try to implement in policy. We shouldn't just say, 'Well, they're more likely to grow up to be criminals, therefore it's more justified to let them be aborted,'" Szymkowiak said.
"I think it's unfortunate that these other credible stories, like The Crime Drop in America, have been eclipsed" by media coverage of the Donahue-Levitt study, he said.