Vol. 5, No. 4, 1999 Page 6

Has legalized abortion reduced crime rates?

Controversial research by John Donohue and Steven Levitt suggests one reason for declining crime rates: the legalization of abortion two decades ago.

Donohue and Levitt point out that unintended pregnancies are associated with poor prenatal care, maternal substance abuse, and lower birthweights-all risk factors for criminality. In addition, they note that the timing of the current drop in crime “is con nsistent with legalized abortion reducing crime rates with a twenty-year lag,” and that the first states to legalize abortion were also the first to experience dropping crime rates. They also note that states with high abortion rates have experienced larg ger drops in crime than other states since 1985, even after controlling for other factors related to crime. Furthermore, they say, “The declines in crime in high abortion states are disproportionately concentrated among those under the age of 25.”

“If [our] estimates are correct,” the researchers say, “legalized abortion can explain about half of the recent fall in crime.”


“Legalized abortion and crime,” John J. Donohue III and Steven D. Levitt, September 1999, unpublished paper. Address: John J. Donohue, Visiting Professor of Law, Yale Law School, P.O. Box 208215, 127 Wall Street, New Haven, CT 06520-8215.

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