Does Abortion Lower Crime Rates?

ByABC News
April 14, 2006, 3:51 PM

April 14, 2006 — -- Why did crime, which rose steadily thru the 1970s and 1980s, suddenly reverse itself and start dropping? Violent crime became a fact of life in American cities in the 1970s, and New York was especially scary. In 1979, New York City saw 16 murders committed in the subways alone.

And the problem seemed unsolvable. "There was not a lot of confidence there was going to be any major significant drop in crime," said Jim Finckenauer, professor of criminal justice at Rutgers University.

"The rise in crime, although something that troubled people, was pretty much taken as kind of the way it is," Finckenauer said.

But then, something surprising happened: throughout the 1990s, the crime rate plunged, and experts are still debating the reason for the drop in crime.

Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, the authors of "Freakonomics," think they know the real reason, and their conclusions have generated a fair amount of controversy. The drop in crime, they say, came about because of abortion.

How could abortion affect crime rates?

There was no shortage of politicians taking credit for making the streets safer for Americans.

President Clinton claimed the drop in crime was the result of an increased police presence in cities throughout the United States.

"He had called, remember, 100,000 police officers on the street, all sorts of crime initiatives -- he got to bathe in the glory of a reduction in crime," said Finckenauer.

And in California, Gov. Pete Wilson claimed the drop in crime was the result of the "three strikes and you're out" initiative that threw more repeat felony offenders in jail.

Back in New York, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani began getting tough on minor offenses. "It has to do with paying attention to the things we were ignoring in the past. Aggressive panhandling, squeegee operators, graffiti: You pay attention to these things, and all of a sudden you're gonna start to see murder come down by 30 [percent], 40 percent," Giuliani said.

But who was right?

"I spent about five years studying the different reasons why crime would fall. Was it police? Was it prisons? Was it the economy?" Levitt asked.