Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The Policy that dare not speak its name?

I kind of read about a real "wild card" to do with abortion, on "The Economist". It talked about a study which confirmed the hypothesis essentially that abortions prevent future criminals. Essentially, it analysed detailed statistics in states of the USA which prohibited abortion over a certain period, and the crime rate of the corresponding states a generation later. The conclusion was (for me) startling : - The states which prohibited abortions had higher and increasing crime rates a generation later: Those with more liberal abortion laws had reduced crime rates (both relatively and in absolute terms). For a non-commital person like me on this issue, this would definitely be an issue where I would conclude that effective prohibition is not the answer. Certainly, education on family planning and effective alternatives for "unplanned" children is something we could all push in the same direction for - also late terminations should also be viewed the same as infanticide; but we can't ignore the unintended future consequences either. I am not convinced that human nature has changed, and the resort to abortion is always taken with a heavy heart, with a personal calculation of the likely future misery either way. Sure - its killing, pure and simple, but so is euthanasia, fighting a war - just or otherwise, meat industry etc. etc. Like the other forms of killing, I can only bring myself to think about the big picture. I can't mourn for every miscarriage, war death, or terminal patient dying suspiciously. I will almost always mourn for someone cut down in the prime of their life.


Dr. Clam said...

Your link was to premium content, so I don't know exactly what's in the article, but I expect from the first paragraph I was allowed to see that it is old news. That is, the correlation of a decline in crime in the United States with the aftermath of Roe vs Wade. This is reasonable, since it stands to reason that children whose parents really don't want them, and really aren't able to look after them, will be more likely to have horrible childhoods and turn to crime. They will also have a higher rate of mental illness and some congenital mental defects that might lead to criminal behaviour- there was an immediate drop in the incidence of certain birth defects after the introduction of abortion in the U.S., long before there was any prenatal testing. This has been taken for strong evidence that stress on the mother can induce fetal abnormalities.
The actual social experiment you mention (banning abortion after it has become normalised in a society) has not to my knowledge been carried out anywhere for a long enough period of time for changes in crime rates to appear. It certainly would not have happened in any of the states of the U.S., since they are constrained by federal law. The posting "The Reich Stuff" I put up in August is an allusion to the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the Nebraska prohibition on so-called 'partial-birth' abortion, a particularly hideous late term method.

I can think of two places where such an effect might be seen- Poland, where abortion was common under the communists but was prohibited in 1993. That is probably not long enough to see any impact on crime rates, and I am pretty sure it has since been re-legalised. Nicaragua is another possibility, since it is likely (though I don't know) that abortion was legal under the sandinistas and banned again after 1989.

Prohibition is a moral imperative, not a sentimental luxury. Undoubtedly we wil suffer social and economic costs, but it is our duty to bear them. We certainly suffer social and economic costs for allowing union representatives (for example) to live, but that does not mean we should legalise their murder. With the advance of science, I believe it is possible to redefine abortion as the removal of a living child who is brought to term in a tank, preferably coupled with the compulsory sterilisation of the mother and father. After 'birth', such children could be raised by the state, NGOs, distant relations, or interested bystanders.

Your mention of the meat industry raises an important point that is a contributing factor to my own vegetarianism. How can we lobby effectively against the industrial slaughter of humans on the grounds that they are innocent and harmless when we indulge in the industrial slaughter of other animals that are innocent and harmless? We cannot be serious about defending one without defending the other.

Finally, and apropos of nothing that has gone before, is your post about Kylie's ring your roundabout way of confessing that you hypnotised Androoo into believing he has super-powers? :)

Marco said...

This is the complete text - it is old news but I did only read it recently.

WHO would have thought the debate over abortion in America could become any more inflammatory? Now it has. John Donohue of Stanford University Law School and Steven Levitt, an economist at the University of Chicago, have released the results of an unpublished paper* that attributes as much as half of the sharp drop in American crime rates in the 1990s to the 1973 Roe v Wade decision by the Supreme Court that legalised abortion throughout the United States.

The authors argue that the connection between abortion and crime is chillingly simple: a steep rise in abortions after 1973 has meant that many individuals prone to criminal activity in the 1990s were never born. There are two reasons for this. First, abortion shrinks the number of people who reach the age where they are most prone to commit crimes. Second, and more important, abortion is not random. Teenagers, unmarried women and blacks are more likely than average to have abortions; they are also more likely to have children at risk of committing crimes later in life. Similarly, women with unwanted pregnancies are less likely to be good parents and may do things during pregnancy, such as take drugs, that make future criminality more likely.

The authors present three strands of evidence to support their conclusion. First, the precipitous drop in crime across the country coincides with the period in which the generation affected by Roe v Wade would have reached the peak of its criminal activity, at the age of 18-24. Second, the five states that legalised abortion in 1970, three years before Roe v Wade, were the first to experience the drop in criminal activity. And, last, states with high abortion rates from 1973 to 1976 have seen the largest fall in crime since 1985, even after checking for other factors such as incarceration rates, racial composition and income. (In contrast, there is no relationship between abortion rates in the 1970s and crime before 1985, when abortion-affected groups had not yet reached criminal age.)

The authors reckon that a 10% increase in the abortion rate is associated with a 1% decrease in crime; current crime rates would be 10-20% higher if abortion had not been legalised. Using current estimates for the social cost of crime, the authors estimate the concomitant social benefits of abortion to be in the order of $30 billion a year. They also predict that crime rates will continue to fall by 1-2% a year for 15-20 years as the full effects of legalised abortion are felt.

The premises of the paper all seem reasonably sound. It is by putting them together that the authors of the paper have managed to shock a lot of people, by no means all of them in America.

Marco said...

I will put further comments on a new blogger entry, my comments seem not to be working very well...