19 March 2006

Crime and Abortion

While in one of them kewl bookstore-slash-coffeeshops over the weekend, I finally read a chapter from Freakonomics. Each chapter of the book discusses statistical arguments that run counter to conventional wisdom. One chapter in particular caught my eye due to the current resurgence of the abortion issue. Discussing crime-related statistics, the author claims that most of the factors associated with the drop in the crime rate since the early '90s actually have little to do with it. While agreeing that more imprisonment and more police do in fact reduce crime, the author, after analyzing all the stats, says that the most directly relevant factor is--now get this--abortion. Evidently, the crime-rate drop directly coincides with the advent of Roe vs. Wade--that is, the crime rate went down right when the unborn criminals would have come of age to commit crimes. (Evidently, this drop in crime cannot be explained via general demographic trends.) The argument is that the people who don't feel that they are able to raise a child properly tend to get abortions. The most convincing element of the author's analysis is the odd correlation between states who legalized abortion early and those who experienced an earlier drop in crime rates.

The book's author is to be praised for bringing up another point in passing--the idea that the life of a fetus, while important, isn't to be valued as much as the life of a newborn infant. As I've discussed at length before, I think if we could peer into people's innermost minds, we'd find that virtually everyone believes this, but due to people's attachment to both sides of the abortion debate (and to the way their side has framed the debate) nobody wants to say this. Those on the "pro-life" side claim, on purely doctrinal grounds, make the audacious claim that a fertilized egg is no different than a person, while many of those on the "pro-choice" side make the illogical claim that the unborn fetus, at any stage of development, has none of the features of a person. A more reasonable position (one which virtually everyone probably intuitively accepts) is that the fertilized egg slowly develops into a person. Our positions on the abortion debate should reflect this.

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