The following is from the Sunday, August 29, 1999 edition of The
Arizona Republic, page A2.

Steve Wilson
Republic Columnist

As arguments over the fate of a 24-week-old fetus swirl across Arizona, another controversy is building around the country about a connection between abortion and crime.

A study by two respected scholars contends that the sharp increase in abortion following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Roe vs. Wade in 1973 may account for as much as half of the drop in the nation's crime rate during the 1990s.

Their research suggests that fewer crimes were comitted partly because many potential criminals, who would be in their teens and 20s in this decade, were aborted.

Since 1973, an estimated 34 million abortions have been done in America, including 1.37 million last year. Up to one-quarter of all pregnancies in the country end in abortion. Women whose backgrounds put thier children at the higherst risk for future crime have disproportionately higher rates of abortion, the authors noted.

The study was not done to promote abortion as a way of preventing crime, insisted the researchers, Stanford University law Professor John Donohue and University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt.

But that's precisely what many pro-life advocates fear will happen.

Joseph Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League in Chicago, chastised the study as "an insidious rationale for tolerating abortion" and called it consistent with the "get rid of the undesirables" approach of eugenicists.

"Naturally, if you kill off a million and a half people a year, a few criminals will be in that number. So will doctors, philosophers, musicians and artists -- maybe even some economists," he said.

"This smells like arguments made in Nazi Germany and even in this country in the 1920s by those who favored compulsory sterilization to make sure that `breeders' didn't produce a subclass of people," said John Jakubczyk, a Phoenix lawyer who represents Arizona Right to Life.

"This new study is an affront to many socio-economic groups and plays right into people's prejudices," he added.

The research doesn't seem unreasonable to Joseph Feldman, director of education with Planned Parenthood of Central and Northern Arizona.

"Plenty of studies have found that unwantedness is a variable that's highly associated with social trouble in a child's life," he said. "The idea that fewer unwanted children since `73 might result in a lower crime rate is no big leap in logic."

Richard Posner, chief judge of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, assessed the study as "a striking, original, rigorous and persuasive -- although not conclusive -- demonstration of the commonsensical point that unwanted children are quite likely not to turn out to be the best citizens."

Dispute over the research has been intense, even though the study has yet to be published. It attracted heavy attention after a 63-page abstract of "Legalized Abortion and Crime" was posted two months ago on the Social Science Research Network Electronic Library (

The study comes at a time when experts still disagree about what accounts for the decline in crime this decade, including a drop of 30 percent in the U.S. murder rate. Among the reasons cited are more police, better policing strategies, the rising number of criminals in prison, a decline in the crack cocaine epidemic and a strong economy with more jobs.

The study says that all these things, especially increased imprisonment, have helped dampen crime but that legalizing abortion nationwide made a greater difference than any other factor. The authors also estimate "the social benefit to reduced crime as a result of abortion may be on the order of $30 billion annually."

The study should not become a weapon in the abortion debate; its conclusion comes too close to endorsing eugenics. But neither should this research be censored or ignored. If a strong causal link exists between abortion and crime, it deserves attention no matter how offensive the implications.

The provocative report raises hard questions that need impartial examination, a tall order when the topic is abortion.

Steve Wilson can be reached at (602) 444-8775 or at


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