Does Abortion Prevent Crime?
carolyn By Carolyn Gargaro
Rightgrrl Co-Founder
September 1, 1999
"Tonight behold the sparkle of champagne the crime rate's gone feel free again o' life's a dream with you, miss lily white Jane Fonda on the screen today convinced the liberals it's okay so let's get dressed and dance away the night while they... kill kill kill kill kill the poor...tonight".
("Kill the Poor," by the Dead Kennedys)

University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and Stanford University law professor John Donohue have concluded that legalizing abortion in the United States in 1973 led to the drop in crime seen in the country two decades later. (Chicago Tribune, August 8, 1999). They believe that the "unwanted" offspring of "poor, teenage minority women" were aborted at a disproportionately high rate in the 1970's. Levitt and Donohue conclude that legal abortion "eliminated" those who are most likely to be potential criminals. These aborted potential criminals would have been of age to commit crimes, but since they were aborted, crime has gone down. The authors imply that our world is a better place because there are fewer poor, minority children born to commit crimes, thanks to Roe V. Wade.

There are numerous flaws in Levitt and Donohue's conclusion. The study makes a great deal of unsubstantiated assumptions, and in actuality, does not necessarily coincide with current crime statistics.

Crime Statistics
The crime rate in the United States was lower in the 30s, 40s, and 50s, when abortion was illegal. Crime then started increasing prior to the legalization of abortion, and the minor decrease we have seen recently is a small drop when compared to the initial increase. If abortion prevents crime by reducing the number of potential criminals, as the study suggests, then why was the crime rate lower for many years prior to the legalization of abortion?

In addition, statistics show that much of the drop in crime isn't within the "post-Roe" age range. For instance, according to FBI statistics, the murder rate for 14 to 17-year-olds in 1997 was 94 percent higher than it was for 14 to 17-year-olds in 1984. Yet, during that same time period, the murder rate for 25 to 34-year-olds (those born prior to Roe) has dropped 27 percent. (source:

The murder rate for 14 to 17-year-olds during 1993 (born post-Roe between 1975 and 1979) was 3.6 times that of the children who were 14 to 17 years old in 1984 (born pre-Roe 1966 to 1970). In contrast, over the same time span the murder rate for those 25 and over (all born prior to Roe) dropped 6 percent. (source:

Probably the most significant drop in crime was seen between the years of 1993 and 1997, when Child Abuse and Suicide
Interestingly enough, legalized abortion was supposed to dramatically reduce child abuse. "Every child a wanted child!" abortion proponents cried. "Unwanted children are abused! Abortion will help end child abuse!" Aside from the fact that killing someone because they might be abused isn't very logical, child abuse has increased since the legalization of abortion. The National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect indicates that the prevalence of child abuse is increasing, and the increases are "significant." From 1986 to 1993, the incidence of physical abuse rose 42% (97% under the revised Endangerment Standard), physical neglect rose 102% (163% E.S.), sexual abuse rose 83% (125% E.S.) and emotional neglect rose 333% (188% E.S.). This study did not conclude that better reporting was the reason for the increases:
"Although the rise in the population of endangered children may stem from improved recognition of more subtle cues from the child by community professionals, the rise in the number of serious injuries probably reflects a real increase in child abuse and neglect because it cannot be plausibly explained on the basis of heightened sensitivity." (source:
The study cited parental substance abuse, not the "unwanted" status of the child, as the major factor contributing to increases in abuse.

According to a study by Prevent Child Abuse America, child abuse reporting levels rose 41% between 1988 and 1997. This study did attribute greater public awareness and willingness to report as reasons for the sharp increase. However, the levels rose 1.7% between 1996 and 1997, despite the level of public awareness remaining relatively constant over a one-year period. (source:

I wonder how Levitt and Donohue explain the rise in the level of child abuse since the legalization of abortion? If we have essentially "killed off" many potential criminals through legalized abortion, as they concluded, and abortion itself was supposed to reduce child abuse, why on earth has child abuse increased? Does this mean that only certain "types" of criminals were aborted, and those who would commit child abuse were not?

Suicide rates are also up. Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in our country today, and is now the third leading cause of death among teenagers. (Psychiatry: Education's Ruin (Citizens Commission on Human Rights International, 1995), p. 10) Should we conclude then, that legalized abortion causes suicide, because the rate of suicide has increased?

Many Assumptions
The study also assumes that we ultimately know the fate of millions of people who died before they even had a chance to live. How do we know that those aborted children would definitely become criminals? Because their mothers were often single, poor, or a minority? That entire assumption, that abortion "killed off" the "poor and the minorities" -- the "troublemakers" -- is classist and racist. This basically assumes that poor single mothers will raise criminals. What an encouraging thing to tell young, unwed mothers! The study also states that those aborted are "the ones who are most likely to have been unloved by their mothers." So we now are to assume that if your mother might not "love you" you are destined to be a criminal? And what does this say about mothers with unplanned pregnancies -- that they will all be such horrible mothers that their children are destined to become criminals?

How do we know that many of the millions of aborted people wouldn't have been productive, law-abiding citizens? How do we know that one of the greatest peacemakers of all time, who would have helped solve the crime problem, wasn't aborted? That's the point -- we don't know. When 40 million lives are wiped out, society does indeed lose criminals, but society also loses peacemakers, scientists, and positive role models.

The causes of violent crime are very complex. Drugs, lack of education, lack of opportunity, relaxed moral standards, lack of respect for your fellow human being -- all play a factor. One could also easily argue that legalized abortion feeds into the crime problem. Abortion teaches us that a person's life is essentially worthless, if the person might be an inconvenience. What does that teach the youth of today -- that a "choice" is more important than life? On the web site is the statement, "How much a society values its children can be measured by how well their children are treated." Indeed, what does it say when the most helpless among us are seen as the most disposable?

To say simply that legalized abortion has reduced crime ignores the complex factors associated with crime, as well as many current crime statistics, and perpetuates unfounded, race and class-based stereotypes about millions who have died as the result of "choice."

This article copyright © 1999 by Carolyn Gargaro and may not be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of its author. All rights reserved.

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