The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime

The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime

"The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime" is a controversial paper by Steven Levitt of University of Chicago and John Donohue of Yale University. The paper, published in the "Quarterly Journal of Economics" in 2001, offers evidence that the falling United States crime rates of the 1990s were in part caused by the legalization of abortion due to the "Roe v. Wade" court decision of 1973.

The 1972 Rockefeller Commission on Population and the American Future is one of the better known early versions of this claim, but it was surely not the first. [ [ Rockefeller Commission on Population and the American Future] ] The Commission cited research purporting that the children of women denied an abortion “turned out to have been registered more often with psychiatric services, engaged in more antisocial and criminal behavior, and have been more dependent on public assistance.” A study by Hans Forssman and Inga Thuwe was cited by the Rockefeller Commission and is probably the first serious empirical research on this topic. They studied the children of 188 women who were denied abortions from 1939 to 1941 at the hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden. They compared these “unwanted” children to another group – the next children born after each of the unwanted children at the hospital. The "unwanted" children were more likely to grow up in adverse conditions, such as having divorced parents or being raised in foster homes and were more likely to become delinquents and engaged in crime. [Hans Forssman and Inga Thuwe, "One hundred and twenty children born after application for therapeutic abortion refused," Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 1966, 71-78] Levitt and Donohue have tried to revive discussion of this claim with their "Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime."


"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. [ "Full text of [ "The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime"] in PDF.]


Economists Christopher Foote and Christopher Goetz published a criticism of Levitt's use of data, concluding that "There are no statistical grounds for believing that the hypothetical youths who were aborted as fetuses would have been more likely to commit crimes had they reached maturity than the actual youths who developed from fetuses and carried to term." [ [ WSJ] ]

Ted Joyce has published a paper criticizing Levitt's and Donohue's research, and instead suggests that the decline is "likely the result of unmeasured period effects such as changes in crack cocaine use." [] Donohue and Levitt reply, stating, "Joyce’s failure to uncover a negative relationship between abortion and crime is a consequence of his decision to focus almost exclusively on one nonrepresentative six-year period during the peak of the crack epidemic." []

See also

*Legalized abortion and crime effect
*Roe effect
*William Bennett

ources and notes

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