A previous study did find adolescents born in the five states in North America with early legalization of abortion were less likely to use illegal drugs than adolescents born in other states.
Abel Francois, Raul Magni-Berton, and Laurent Weill point out that it is this second theory that is particularly espoused by the authors of “Freakonomics,” who express the idea as follows: “Unwantedness leads to high crime; abortion leads to less unwantedness; abortion leads to less crime.”
While the effects of abortion rates on crime have been extensively debated by economists, the controversy has focused on single-country specific studies with most research focusing on the US setting.
This issue is clarified, these researchers contend, in their newer study by providing a cross-country analysis of the relationship between abortion and crime based on a sample of 16 Western European countries.
The authors point out that before their current research, previous investigations provided evidence supporting the theory that abortion rates impact on deviant behavior.
One study investigated a more immediate effect of the legalization of abortion by examining homicides of young children in the US. Legalization of abortion in 1973 was associated with a reduction of the number of children homicide victims less than five years old.
However the theory has also attracted criticism. For example, some have argued that most legal abortions in the early 1970s would have only replaced illegal abortions. Legalizing abortion doesn’t, according to this argument, change the amount of actual terminations, it just alters the officially recorded statistics.
Crack Cocaine Epidemic
Another criticism is that the reported association between abortion and crime is in fact the result of other changes in society, for example, crack cocaine use. The period of debate coincides with a massive epidemic of crack cocaine in the US, which had increased crime rates.
Yet another complicating factor in the controversy is how the law surrounding abortion operates in different countries and in contrasting epochs.
In the case of a limited right to abort, people with adverse health conditions or those who live under extremely difficult socioeconomic conditions are the only ones allowed to abort, and thus the selection process of who gets ‘taken out’ of the population via abortion, is decided by law or society.
However, when abortion is upon request, the authors of this new study point out selection becomes decided by mothers themselves, who might be assumed to know better than anyone else under which conditions they are best able to raise a child.
This link between a mother’s pregnancy intentions and a child’s future delinquency has already been shown in previous research.
This factor may explain another key finding from this study which is that broadly speaking, it is the volume of abortion that reduces the theft rate, while it is more the existence of abortion that decreases the homicide rate.
In other words, abortion has different effects on contrasting criminal activities.
The very latest research even suggests that abortion has different consequences depending on what age you are as woman when it happens.
In a study entitled, “Crime, Teenage Abortion, and Unwantedness,” Gary Shoesmith, professor of economics at Wake Forest University in the USA, argues that it is teenage motherhood that is the major maternal crime factor, as opposed to unwanted pregnancy overall.
His study, published in the academic journal, “Crime and Delinquency,” points out that teenage abortions accounted for more than 30% of U.S. abortions in the 1970s, but only 16% to 18% since 2001, which suggests the previous research finding a link between higher abortion rates and lower crime rates could be getting outdated.
Shoesmith contends the link between crime and abortion is strongest when using data from states with distinctly high and low teenage abortion concentrations and that issue of crime and abortion rests, in fact, on teenage abortion.
Shoesmith argues that a more useful line of inquiry is to explore alternative ways to reduce teen pregnancy; therefore the sociological and psychological factors that influence teenage behavior become vital.
He comments that his study is not meant to encourage teenage abortion and that fortunately, teenage pregnancies in the US are declining faster than teenage abortions. He points out that the most recent decline in teenage births is linked almost exclusively to improved contraceptive use.
Even more controversially, therefore, for the right of politics, this data might suggest the biggest impact on future crime would be to specifically facilitate teenage contraception or failing that, teenage abortions?
While doubtless the debate will continue to rage on, does all of this research raise some troubling questions for those on the right of the political spectrum?
In particular, how does it impact those who want to be tough on abortion yet remain hard-hitting on crime like Donald Trump seems to want to be?