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The Abortion Bonus

The Abortion Bonus

By Barbara Sumner Burstyn.

First published on…

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In a similar way to the economic upside that is now being attached to divorce – that it doubles the market – researchers are now redefining the economic and social consequences of abortion.

Abortion used to be a purely moral issue with the debate surrounding termination cantered on the individuals right to choose. But perhaps the moral equation has at last reached its use-by date. Recent research in the United States has come up with a unique angle. Becoming known as the ‘abortion bonus’, the research centres on the direct correlation between abortion rates and the startling drop in crime in major cities across the United States. Abortion may account for as much as half of the decreases in the US crime rate say researchers Steven Levitt, a University of Chicago economist and John Donahue of Stanford University law school. They add that the 1973 Roe v’ s Wade ruling, which legalized abortion throughout the United States, means that many people who might have become crooks in the 1990’s were never born.

The Levitt-Donahue theory holds that a high proportion of the women who received legal abortions after 1973 were women who might otherwise have given birth to unwanted, economically deprived children raised in single-parent or dysfunctional families – the type of background that often produces delinquents. The researchers noted that it was when children born after 1973 had just reached the trouble-prone age that crime started it’s downturn. Five states had legalized abortion in 1970, three years before the rest. Interestingly the researchers discovered that these were the first states to register crime decreases.

Another theorist stated recently that abortions (or at least the legal ones) really became a birth control option in the late 1970’s, perhaps explaining the reasonably flat population growth and subsequent modest numbers of people now in their mid-20’s and younger. And while I have no sociological studies to back me up, it would seem safe to assume that many women who sought these abortions would in fact be - as Levitt and Donahue found - poorly educated and economically disadvantaged. Possibly that would help explain why the abortion boom has arrived despite widespread sex-education programs such as those run by the Family Planning Association, school boards and other community organizations.

So perhaps the American researchers are suggesting that as a species we are spontaneously controlling the quality of our populations via termination. Or maybe there really is a surreptitious conspiracy to manipulate entire populations? Either way we moderns are in good company. After all Mein Kampf was predicated on control of the gene pool, Plato’s philosophy was that bad elements should not be allowed to reproduce, and limpieza de sangre – the purity of blood – was the justification for the Inquisition.

Extrapolating the concept of abortion as a population control tool, whether conscious or otherwise, sparks a number of interesting ideas. On one side it removes a cast of people who are traditionally economically dependent on the state, draining tax reserves without replenishing the wider community in an economically tangible way. Downstream this removal releases resources from such areas as policing, incarceration services, and education and frees them up to be used in effective community creation. Perhaps abortion is not solely a sign of moral decline but an example of the momentum towards upscaling and improvement. A morphic desire by the general population to create a better population.

But one thing doesn’t quite make sense. If the Levit-Donahue theory is sound then surely abortion could legitimately be seen as a population control tool and exactly the kind of device conservatives world wide are looking for. After all it ensures that white, upwardly mobile, stable, well-mannered and well-behaved taxpayers will prevail.

But earlier this year on the 29th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion President Bush renewed his opposition to the procedure cutting off federal funding to international agencies which support women seeking an abortion. He went on to say that the promises of the Declaration of Independence should apply to everyone, not just the healthy or the strong or the powerful." Conveniently forgetting that, if the Levitt Donohue theory holds any weight, those seeking abortion, are often anything but.

So whether rampant abortion is a bonus or a hindrance to the development of society the latest findings will enliven and perhaps revive a debate that has been mired in simplistic notions of right and wrong, for decades. We all live in a moral conundrum that will challenge many of us on a personal level at some time in our reproductive shelf lives. Personally I’m like most people, a situationist. Neither pro nor anti abortion. In truth we get pregnant and we make a decision based on a range of reasons primarily motivated by our own personal situation, advancement and goals rather than idealist factors such as the greater social good. The abortion dilemma; coming soon to a family like yours.

© Barbara Sumner Burstyn May 2002.
P.O.V. with Barbara Sumner Burstyn @

Send your comments to:Barb Sumner Burstyn.

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