Sunday, November 8, 2009

Splitting the Baby in Half – The Great Healthcare Abortion Debate

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi struggled and failed to make legalized abortions a part of the costs covered by the proposed healthcare legislation. A number of conservative Democrats (there was only one Republican supporter – Louisiana Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao, elected in a heavily Democratic district because his opponent was battling corruption charges) railed at this concept, and in the end, the version of the healthcare legislation that did clear the House (here comes the Senate and the likely Republican/independent filibuster; the bill could be DOA as a result)… but with a catch: “Her attempts at winning them over had failed, and Ms. Pelosi, the first woman speaker and an ardent defender of abortion rights, had no choice but to do the unthinkable. To save the health care bill she had to give in to abortion opponents in her party and allow them to propose tight restrictions barring any insurance plan that is purchased with government subsidies from covering abortions.”

So I thought to myself, what is the most controversial statistical analysis that bolsters a conservative agenda but clearly supports the notion of legalized abortion? And then I remembered a section in Steven Levitt’s & Stephen Dubner’s mega-best seller, Freakonomics (Harper, 2005, 2006, 2009). Levitt is an award-winning and highly respected economist at the University of Chicago who has specialized in challenging generally accepted theories and “common knowledge” with the credible evidence of detailed statistical analysis.

The premise, which will undoubtedly get under some of my readers’ skin, is that the exceptionally significant reduction in violent crime in the 1990’s was not the result of better police enforcement, an increase in the rate of incarceration of criminals (such as under the three strikes legislation adopted by most states), or enlightened social policies. Instead argue Levitt and Dubner, it was the legacy of the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision banning restrictions on abortion set forth in the famous Roe vs. Wade decision.

Their conclusion was that legalized abortion literally gave unwed mothers and those who knew they really would not be responsible mothers the option of terminating a pregnancy – people at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder had a choice. Since, the authors assert, these mothers would have most likely produced children without credible parental guidance and care, those children most “at risk” for social maladjustment and living in the crime-plagued lower economic neighborhood, the reduction in birthrates in this limited group of “potential criminals” had its obvious effect decades later when those who would have been born would have been old enough to commit the projected crimes.

Some excerpts: “In the first year after Rose v. Wade, some 750,000 women had abortions in the United States (representing one abortion for every 4 live births). By 1980 the number of abortions reached 1.6 million (one for every 2.25 live births), where it leveled off.” (page 138)

“One study has shown that the typical child who went unborn in the earliest years of legalized abortion would have 50% more likely than average to live in poverty; he would have been 60% more likely to grow up with just one parent. These two factors – childhood poverty and a single-parent household – are among the strongest predictors that a child will have a criminal future.” (pages 138-139).

“One way to test the effect of abortion on crime would be to measure crime date in the five states where abortion was made legal before the Supreme Court extended abortion rights to the rest of the country… And indeed, those early-legalizing states saw crime fall earlier than the other forty-five states [before the unborn children would have come of age under Roe vs. Wade-permitted abortions]… 13% compared to the other states…” (page 141)

“Sure enough, the states with the highest abortion rates in the 1970s experienced the greatest crime drops in the 1990s, while states with low abortion rates experienced smaller crime drops… Since 1985, states with high abortion rates have experienced a roughly 30 percent drop in crime relative to low-abortion states.” (page 141)

If you want to know more, read the book; I just hit the headlines on this topic. These controversial statistics seem to provide a hornet’s nest of issues to be debated. How do you feel about these findings?

I’m Peter Dekom, and I thought this was most interesting.

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