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Study Linking Abortion and Lower Crime Published

Study Linking Abortion and Lower Crime Published

By Scott Hogenson Executive Editor
May 15, 2001

( - A controversial study linking a reduction in crime during the 1990s with legalized abortion two decades earlier has been published in one of the nation's foremost scholarly journals.

The study, entitled The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime, was published in the May 7 edition of the Quarterly Journal of Economics, which is edited by the Economics Department of Harvard University and calls itself "the oldest professional journal of economics in the English language."

Authored by researchers John J. Donohue III and Steven D. Levitt, the study had been privately circulated since 1999, but had not been accepted for publication in a scholarly journal until now.

An abstract of the study, published in November 2000 by the National Bureau of Economic Research, states, "legalized abortion appears to account for as much as 50 percent of the recent drop in crime," during the 1990s.

The study also suggests that abortion particularly among young black women results in a significant decrease in crime.

"Fertility declines for black women are three times greater than for whites," stated the study. "Given that homicide rates of black youths are roughly nine times higher than those of white youths, racial differences in the fertility effects of abortion are likely to translate into greater homicide reductions."

Donohue and Levitt state that their study is not an attempt to promote abortion, which opposed by about as many people who support it.

"In attempting to identify a link between legalized abortion and crime, we do not mean to suggest that such a link is 'good' or 'just,' but rather, merely show that such a relationship exists," the researchers note.

Making a Case for Abortion

In conducting their study, Donohue and Levvitt, researchers at Stanford Law School and the University of Chicago, respectively, the two said their data show that the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide was followed by a significant drop in crime during the 1990s.

"Abrupt legal developments... might plausibly have a similarly abrupt influence 15-20 years later when the cohorts born in the wake of liberalized abortion would start reaching their high-crime years," the study states.

The analysis included four primary factors: race, teenage motherhood, unmarried motherhood and whether the conceived child was indeed wanted.

Partially through this analysis, the study noted that "far more interesting from our perspective is the possibility that abortion has a disproportionate effect on the births of those who are most at risk of engaging in criminal behavior."

While the study specifically theorizes on a link between abortion among black women and crime among blacks, it makes no direct declaration of such a relationship and cites studies in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, which indicated that, "children who were born because their mothers were denied an abortion were substantially more likely to be involved in crime."

Not only does the study "suggest that legalized abortion is a primary explanation of the large drops in murder, property crime and violent crime," a quarter century after Roe v. Wade, it also reported that crime rates in five states that allowed abortion before 1973 "experienced declines earlier than the rest of the nation."

Study Steadily Earning Acceptance

Pro-life groups and some African-American organizations denounced the study when it first became public in August 1999, referring to it in terms of "prenatal racial profiling" and "eugenics," which deals with controlled human mating.

The group Project 21 said two years ago that "widespread acceptance of the conclusions of studies like "Legalized Abortion and Crime" could be used to resurrect... Margaret Sanger's racist "Negro Project" of the 1930s," which was an effort to reduce the size of black families.

But since it's emergence in 1999, the study has been steadily accepted in the academic community and is now listed among the requirements of numerous university courses and in a growing number of university libraries.

The William M. Rains Library at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles listed the study in its February 2001 Accessions List, and a Fall, 2000 economics course at Harvard University listed the study as part of the course's reading requirements.

The research by Donohue and Levitt is also among the scholarly readings available at the Georgetown University Law Center and the report is listed among the readings for courses in Labor, Economics, Public Policy and Human Capital at the University of California-Los Angeles.

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