The Columbia Critic

A place to debate anything we want to. We'll talk Columbia campus issues. We'll talk up the homosexual problem. We'll talk China. And we'll talk without resorting to partisan rhetoric. We may be left. We may be right. But we aren't going to be quoting any party line. We're leading the discussion. But feel free to chime in. Hannity and Colmes this is not.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Expanding the Abortion Debate

From the Spectator ...

By Brian Wagner

September 23, 2005

The abortion debate has grown increasingly tiresome over the years, as discussion has narrowed to revolve exclusively around two oversimplified camps. On the one hand, there are those who religiously defend the right of a woman to choose, and on the other hand, there are those who exalt the right of a fetus to live. This debate is a lie, because we have declared everything except the most basic partisan rhetoric to be too controversial to openly discuss.

That is where University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt comes in. Levitt is best known in mainstream circles as the author of the bestselling book Freakonomics, which seeks to examine large data sets to answer questions that have thus far been seen as settled by “common sense.”

The book is an amazing example of the power of properly collected and examined data: Levitt argues that sumo wrestlers cheat, swimming pools are a greater danger than guns, and that most crack dealers don’t make money.

But the most important part of the book is derived from a 1999 paper Levitt co-authored, in which he explained how the legalization of abortion in the late 1970s was the single greatest factor in the massive drop of crime that occurred across the United States in the mid-to-late 1990s.

Essentially, Levitt has developed a strong set of correlations indicating that the greatest crime-fighting tool of the last 20 years has been abortion. Forget the juvenile arguments we’ve been stuck on in the media, we need to chew on this. Levitt’s findings have held up even when confronted with every other major variable during that period, including the crack cocaine epidemic, broken window policing, and aging of the population. His research provides quantitative support for the idea that when a woman who is unready to have a baby has an abortion, she actually contributes to a better society.

To understand Levitt’s findings in their entirety, it is necessary to read his paper, “The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime.” But in short, he found that while urban crime was increasing at a dizzying rate in the 1990s and politicians were warning about “super predators” who were dispossessed urban youth, a sudden change occurred. In the second half of the decade, crime plummeted everywhere. Why?

Levitt argues that the steep increase in abortions in the late 1970s, occurring at a rate of one for every two births, removed from the nation hundreds of thousands of unwanted young men who would have otherwise been the highest risk group to begin committing crimes as they came of age in the mid-1990s. But they were never born, and the generation of urban predators that President Clinton warned about, born to families that didn’t want them or couldn’t care for them, never developed.

Levitt, in his paper and later works, convincingly dispels notions that any other cause, like the end of the crack cocaine epidemic or good policing, could have been the largest factor in the lowered crime rate. Abortion removed many people at high risk to be criminals from the world. Why were they most likely to be criminals? Among other reasons, they would have been born to mothers who weren’t prepared, mentally or financially, to care or provide for them.

No important debate should be restricted to only a few basic issues. Levitt’s findings could transform abortion from what some people call the most selfish of acts into a community-minded decision that is the hallmark of a woman who understands that motherhood entails responsibility. It is irresponsible of us to not confront abortion as it really is—a hugely complex decision that entails considerations of the meaning of life, the rights of the unborn, the responsibilities of motherhood, and the costs of unwanted babies.

The abortion debate should be wide-ranging and free of public censorship; the narrow focus on the status of the unborn for such an important subject is specious. We should use Levitt’s controversial findings as a jumping point to broader debate that encourages discussion instead of stifling it.


  • At 4:39 PM, Anonymous Tara Watson said…

    Bad use of Freakenomics.

    Ask me about the Pharmacy Stings that I coordinated and just finished number crunching the results. The results will shock and amaze you


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