Monday, November 28, 2005

More on Abortion and Crime

In Freakonomics economist Steven Levitt, drawing on a 2001 paper co-authored with John Donohue, argued that access to abortion (through legalization) is the main cause of the decline in the rate of violent crime. Here's how The Washington Post reported it:
Freakonomics is packed with fascinating ideas. Consider Levitt's notion of a relationship between abortion access and the crime drop. First, Freakonomics shows that although commonly cited factors such as improved policing tactics, more felons kept in prison and the declining popularity of crack account for some of the national reduction in crime that began in about the year 1990, none of these completes the explanation. (New York City and San Diego have enjoyed about the same percentage decrease in crime, for instance, though the former adopted new policing tactics and the latter did not.) What was the significance of the year 1990, Levitt asks? That was about 16 years after Roe v. Wade . Studies consistently show that a disproportionate number of crimes are committed by those raised in broken homes or who were unwanted as children. When abortion became legal nationally, Levitt theorizes, births of unwanted children declined; 16 years later crime began to decline, as around age 16 is the point at which many once-innocent boys start their descent into the criminal life. Leavitt's [sic] clincher point is that the crime drop commenced approximately five years sooner in Alaska, California, Hawaii, New York and Washington state than it did in the nation as a whole. What do these states have in common? All legalized abortion about five years before Roe .
Steve Sailer offered statistical evidence that led me to reject on Levitt's argument in a post on May 15, 2005, saying this:
If the legalization of abortion did result in less crime it's only because abortion became more prevalent among that segment of society that is most prone to commit crime. (I dare not speak its name.) What policy does Levitt want us to infer from that bit of causality? Would he favor a program of euthanasia for the most crime-prone segment of society? Now there's a fine kettle of fish for Leftists, who favor abortion and oppose "oppression" of the the segment of society that is the most crime-prone.

I stand by my original assertion [here] that " incarceration and spending on the criminal justice system...are the public-policy weapons of choice" in dealing with crime. Whatever abortion is, it isn't a crime-footing tool.
It now seems that Levitt's findings are built on statistical quicksand. From the abstract of a paper by Christopher L. Foote and Christopher F. Goetz of the Boston Fed:
[A] fascinating paper by Donohue and Levitt (2001, henceforth DL) . . . purports to show that hypothetical individuals resulting from aborted fetuses, had they been born and developed into youths, would have been more likely to commit crimes than youths resulting from fetuses carried to term. We revisit that paper, showing that the actual implementation of DL’s statistical test in their paper differed from what was described. . . .We show that when DL’s key test is run as described and augmented with state‐level population data, evidence for higher per capita criminal propensities among the youths who would have developed, had they not been aborted as fetuses, vanishes.
Whatever abortion is -- and I have a lot to say about that in these links -- it most certainly is not a crime fighting tool.

Related posts:
Does Capital Punishment Deter Homicide?
Libertarian Twaddle about the Death Penalty
Crime and Punishment
Abortion and Crime
Saving the Innocent?
Saving the Innocent?: Part II
More Punishment Means Less Crime
More About Crime and Punishment
More Punishment Means Less Crime: A Footnote
Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty
Let the Punishment Fit the Crime
Another Argument for the Death Penalty
Less Punishment Means More Crime
Crime, Explained