In Steven Levitt's 2005 book Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, a rather callous argument was made for abortion – namely, that abortion reduced crime rates. Author Steven Levitt explained the logic behind this shocking statement on his blog: “Unwanted children have an increased risk of growing up to be criminals, and legalized abortion reduces the number of unwanted children. Consequently, legalized abortion lowers crime in the future.”
Levitt went on to explore the political implications of this theory. He argued that if one was pro-life and viewed abortion as the killing of a child, that abortion killed more lives than it saved and should be outlawed. If one believed that fetuses were not human, then abortion could be seen as a public service, protecting the lives of people in the future. (And if a person was uneasy about whether abortion meant the killing of a child or not, the book recommended weighing the decrease in crime wrought by abortion against the proportion one thought an unborn fetus was a human life, multiplied by the number of abortions in America.)
So, by this argument, if unborn children are not people, then abortion actually saves lives in the long run.
The main argument of the book – that abortion actually reduced crime rates in the first place – has since been debunked by multiple researchers. This is not surprising, for the argument that abortion reduces crime faces two major philosophical flaws.
The first philosophical flaw in Levitt's argument is that abortion contributes to an increasingly violent, less stable culture. Abortion provides a disincentive for women to engage in stable relationship behavior by having families. It provides an opportunity for men to avoid the responsibility of helping to raise the children they sire. Abortion provides a disincentive for marriage and the formation of families, leaving men unstable and women vulnerable. Thus abortion, by contributing to promiscuous behavior and an unstable society, increases crime.
The second flaw is a problem common among many activists in modern society – that Levitt told only one side of the story. When looking at the impact abortion had on society, Levitt failed to consider the positive impact those killed by abortion would have provided to society had they lived.
The authors only looked at the potential impact of abortion on crime rates. They did not examine the impact of people who would overcome their handicaps and become doctors, teachers, scientists, and other useful professions. Whatever good unborn children might have done in society was overlooked by the authors, because the authors only looked at unborn children as potential future criminals.
Yes, abortion kills many who might have grown up to be criminals. It also kills people who might have risen from unforuntate circumstances to become the next Beethovens, Wilma Rudolphs, and Steve Jobses. The abortionist wielding his knife does not and indeed cannot know whether the child he or she is killing will become the next Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchhill, common criminal or ordinary citizen.