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Are abortion rates and crime rates linked?
Economist Steven Levitt of Stanford Law School and co-author John Donhue III of the University of Chicago have circulated an unpublished report called "Legalized Abortion and Crime." It suggests that the legalization of abortion might have indirectly caused the lowering of crime rates which have been observed during the 1970's. Their reasoning was that abortions prevented the birth of many people who would have been born into poverty and thus be more likely to commit crimes. They suggest that abortion could be responsible for about half of the drop in crime rates since 1991. Levitt acknowledges that this conclusion is mainly "conjecture" and that it could "never be proven to the degree of certainty that a scientist might demand." Their data showed that those states that legalized abortion prior to 1973 had their crime rates drop sooner than other states. States with very high rates of abortion after 1973 tended to "have particularly high drops in crime during the 1990's." 2
A number of state governments have placed "family caps" on the amount of money that mothers on welfare can receive. If a woman has an additional child, her aid does not increase. A woman on welfare who becomes pregnant is thus faced with a choice of:
Some individuals and groups have been concerned that such caps might cause women to make the latter decision. Researchers at Rutgers University have confirmed these concerns. They completed a study of abortion rates in New Jersey in 1998-NOV. 3 The state had legislated a cap in 1992. As the AP/Boston Globe reported: "denying more money when mothers on welfare have another child has led to dramatic decreases in the welfare birth rate -- but also to more abortions by welfare mothers." The study found that abortion numbers in New Jersey rose slightly among women on welfare. There have been about 240 additional abortions per year. This is in spite of a general decline in abortions among other groups of women in the state. There were 14,000 fewer births among women on welfare than would have been expected if the family cap had not been legislated. While the national birth rate among women of childbearing age dropped 7.8% from 1992 to 1996, the birth rate among women on welfare dropped 24%. Most of these births appear to have been prevented through birth control or abstinence. But about 1,400 additional abortions were performed.
Some information sources which are opposed to abortion access present many horror stories of abortions which have gone terrible wrong and have resulted in the death of the woman. The actual data on the safety of abortions paints quite a different picture. "Abortion is one one of the safest surgical procedures for women."
There is growing support internationally for the genetic testing of teenagers for certain deadly diseases which are genetically caused. One such disease is Tay-Sachs, a progressive neurological disorder which causes death in infancy. It largely affects person of Ashkenazi-Jewish background. Another is Beta-thalassemia, a disease that causes severe anemia and death before 40 years of age. It is mainly found among people of Greek, Italian and Mediterranean background. If a conception occurs between parents who are both carriers, then the fetus has one chance in four of getting the disease. Over the last two decades, about 15,000 teenagers in Montreal, Canada were tested for Tay-Sachs. 521 carriers (1 in 28) were found. About 25,000 students were tested for Beta-talassemia. 693 (1 in 36) were identified as carriers. About 80 fetuses were tested for one of the diseases in the Montreal program; 19 were found to have it; all of the couples chose abortion rather than bring a sick and dying child into the world. The total program cost is $52,000 CDN (about 35,000 US$) per year. The program has come under considerable pressure; in 1994, Quebec's advisory committee on genetics almost succeeded in canceling it. However, the program receives good support within the two communities affected.
A study of Greek Cypriots in Northeast London, England found that about 1 in 7 carried the thalassemia gene. Very few couples who were both carriers were willing to have children; almost 75% of pregnancies were aborted because of fear of the disease. Since 1975, prenatal testing of a fetus has been introduced. The percentage of abortions by couples who are both carriers has sunk to less than 30%, a near normal figure for Britain.
The Alan Guttmacher Institute reported that:
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