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The Abortion Bonus! U.S. Theory Considered

Abortion - "The abortion dilemma; coming soon to a family like yours Mr. Capil."

by Scoop Columnist, Barb Sumner

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 purely a moral issue with the debate surrounding termination centred on the individual's right to choose. Recently Graham Capil suggested that realistic foetus photos would jig the conscious of women contemplating abortion. (Well, maybe if they added a computer generated smile and got it to dance like the Ali McBeal baby.)

And the opposition of course countered with the usual well reasoned, woman's choice, argument. But that was the extent of the dialogue. It was the same old moral high grounding. Reasons and refutations trundled out for the umpteenth time.

But perhaps the moral equation has at last reached its use-by-date.

New 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 Wade ruling, which legalised 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 note that when children born after 1973 reached the trouble-prone age, crime started it’s downturn. Five states had legalised abortion in 1970, three years before the rest. Interestingly the researchers discovered that these were the first states to register crime decreases.

That abortions (or at least the legal ones) really took off in the late 1970s explains the 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, as Levitt and Donahue found in the United States, be poorly educated and economically disadvantaged.

That would help to explain why the abortion boom has arrived despite widespread sex-education programmes such as those run by the Family Planning Association.

Are the American researchers suggesting that as a species we are spontaneously controlling the quality of our populations via termination or are they saying there 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, and education and frees revenue up to be used in community development. Perhaps abortion is not solely a signal of moral decline but an example of momentum; towards upscaling and improvement - a morphic desire by the general population to create a better population. If so, you’d think the environment that is gradually being created by rampant abortion would suit the Graham Capils of the world very well. White, upwardly mobile, stable, well-mannered and well-behaved taxpayers would prevail.

On the negative side, successful abortion campaigns while reducing populations and theoretically reducing demands on resources and the fragile ecosystem of our planet, may actually increase the abuse and damage. One of the key findings in the United Nations' GEO 2000 report found that environmental degradation is known to be caused by an excessive consumption by the minority. In other words - the middle classes - the most excessive consumers since history began.

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. I suspect I am, 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 advancement and goals rather than factors such as the realism of a photo in a pamphlet, or, the greater social good.

The abortion dilemma; coming soon to a family like yours Mr. Capil.

© Barb Sumner November 1999

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