Thursday, January 24, 2013

Did abortion benefit society by reducing child abuse and crime?

Advocates of legalized abortion argued that it would benefit society as a whole by reducing child abuse. Forty years later, the opposite has turned out to be the case.

Professor Michael J. New writes:
Abortion advocates frequently argued that legal abortion would decrease child abuse. Children who were wanted, they claimed, would be less likely to suffer from abuse than those who were unwanted. But social science data suggest that this logic is flawed. A landmark study of 674 abused children by Edward Lenoski (University of Southern California) found that 91 percent of the parents admitted that they wanted the child they had abused. A 2005 study by Priscilla Coleman (Bowling Green University) showed that women who obtained abortions were 144 percent more likely to abuse their own children.

At a more theoretical level, Dr. Philip G. Ney, head of the Department of Psychiatry at Royal Jubilee Hospital in Canada, has outlined why abortion can lead directly to child abuse.
  1. Abortion decreases an individual's instinctual restraint against the occasional rage felt toward those dependent on his or her care. 
  2. Permissive abortion diminishes the taboo against aggressing [against] the defenseless.
  3. Abortion increases the hostility between the generations.
  4. Abortion has devalued children, thus diminishing the value of caring for children.
  5. Abortion increases guilt and self-hatred, which the parent takes out on the child.
  6. Abortion increases hostile frustration, intensifying the battle of the sexes, for which children are scapegoated.
  7. Abortion cuts the developing mother-infant bond, thereby diminishing her future mothering capability. 
Overall, American statistics paint a clear picture. Legal abortion did not reduce child abuse. In fact, the exact opposite happened. The National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect has reported that child abuse has increased more than 1,000 percent since the legalization of abortion in 1973. According to data from the US Statistical Abstract, deaths due to child abuse continued to rise after the Roe v. Wade decision and increased by 400 percent between 1972 and 1990. Obviously, child abuse is caused by a variety of complicated factors. Still, our experience in the United States provides no evidence that legal abortion reduces child abuse.
A claim popularized more recently (mostly by the book Freakonomics) is that legalized abortion cut crime rates. But this argument has been thoroughly criticized. Prof. New writes:
Steven Sailer has presented a devastating critique of Levitt and Donohue's research [that posited an abortion-crime link]. He argues that the end of the crack-cocaine wars, not legal abortion, was largely responsible for the crime rate decline in many cities. More importantly, he shows that we can easily test Levitt and Donohue's hypothesis by breaking down crime rates demographically. If their theory is correct, there should be a sharp decrease in the crimes committed by young people.

But Sailer shows that the cohort of 14-to-17-year-olds born after the Roe v. Wade decision was much more likely to commit homicides than the cohort of 14-to-17-year-olds born before Roe v. Wade. Similarly, the percentage and the number of violent crimes committed by those between the ages of 12 and 17 spiked in 1993 and 1994, over twenty years after abortion was legalized. Economists John Lott and John Whitely have made similar arguments in an article published in the academic journal Economic Inquiry, titled "Abortion and Crime: Unwanted Children and Out of Wedlock Births."
Of course, even if abortion did positively affect society, that would not justify it—any more than the killing of some other segment of the human family could be justified for the same reason. The predictions of abortion advocates were entirely wrong anyway.