My article on the hot abortion-cut-crime theory in the May 9th issue of The American Conservative is now available to electronic subscribers. An excerpt from the conclusion:
The social effects of abortion demand closer study.
Although Levitt claims that legalized abortion should have improved the conditions under which children were raised, it made adoption rare. The federal Center for Disease Control reported, "Before 1973 about one in five premarital births to white women were relinquished for adoption. By the mid-1980's (1982-88), this proportion fell to 1 in 30."
Even worse, the national illegitimacy rate soared, from 12 percent in 1972 to 34 percent in 2002. The growth didn't begin to slow until the mid-1990s, when the abortion rate declined. Increased illegitimacy is socially devastating, not just because of the long run harm to the child of being raised without a father, but because of the immediate effect of freeing young men from the civilizing clutches of marriage.
Why did the abortion rate and the illegitimacy rate both skyrocket during the Seventies? Isn't abortion supposed to cut illegitimacy?
Roe largely finished off the traditional shotgun wedding by persuading the impregnating boyfriend that he had no moral duty to make an honest woman of his girlfriend since she could get an abortion. The CDC noted, "Among women aged 15-29 years conceiving a first birth before marriage during 1970-74, nearly half (49 percent) married before the child was born. By 1975-79 the proportion marrying before the birth of the child fell to 32 percent, and it has declined to 23 percent in 1990-94."
The most striking fact about legalized abortion, but also the least discussed, is its pointlessness. Levitt himself notes that following Roe, "Conceptions rose by nearly 30 percent, but births actually fell by 6 percent …" So, for every six fetuses aborted in the 1970s, five would never have been conceived except for Roe!
This ratio makes a sick joke out of Levitt's assumption that legalization made a significant difference in how "wanted" children were. (Indeed, perhaps the increase in the number of women who got pregnant figuring they would get an abortion but then were too drunk or drugged or distracted to get to the clinic, meant that the "wantedness" of surviving babies may have declined.)
The sheer waste of it all is staggering. And the impact on the overall morality of our society of this Supreme Court-condoned carelessness over life is incalculable.