Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Thursday, September 9, 1999

Abortion may help
lower crime rate

IT seems so plausible: Reducing the number of unwanted children reduces future crime. It may explain drops in crime throughout America that have been hard to explain otherwise.

But it is immensely controversial because an emotion-packed word is involved: abortion.

The Star-Bulletin vigorously supported an abortion-by-choice law for Hawaii in 1970, three years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the right to abortion.

We editorialized largely on the advice of psychologists who told us how destructive it can be to women to be forced to have babies they don't want.

We took the position that a fertilized egg is no more a finished human being than a blueprint is a house.

We didn't anticipate that 15 to 20 years later significant drops in crime would appear or that a 1999 review of statistics would correlate these drops with abortion liberalization.

Crime drops showed up first in the five states, including Hawaii, that legalized abortion in 1970. The other 45 and the District of Columbia lagged several years, strongly correlating with the 1973 Supreme Court ruling.

Alaska, California, New York and Washington were the other four states to legalize abortion in 1970. Crime drops came first in property crime. This fits a known pattern of young criminals beginning with property crimes, then advancing to violent crimes and murder. Peak crime ages are 18 to 24.

"Legalized Abortion and Crime" by John J. Donohue III of Stanford Law School and Steven D. Levin of the University of Chicago is on the Internet.

The authors estimate half the reduction in crime, meaning more than 10 percent overall, relates to legal abortion and predict continuing annual declines of 1 percent or so.

Women who choose abortion, Donohue and Levin say, have been primarily unmarried and poor. They see evidence many abortion choices may be simply pregnancy delays.

They see smaller families having an advantage in successful child-raising, particularly among the poor. They reinforce my belief choice is good for society.

The leading opponent of choice, both in birth and dying, is Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill. He uses all possible congressional maneuvers to restrict abortion. His name is on the 1978 amendment limiting Medicaid abortion funding to cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

He now wants a law to deny drugs to Oregon to carry out its voter-ratified legalization of assisted suicide.

Hawaii and other states have worked around the Medicaid limitation. Under QUEST we pre-pay flat fees to physicians for the patients on their panel. QUEST abortions thus are not segregated statistically in our statewide abortion total.

Rather remarkably, we saw between 1992 and 1997 sharp declines in Hawaii in both live births and abortions. This suggests other birth control factors also at work. Live births were down from 19,837 to 17,326 while abortions declined from 5,942 to 4,500. Our 1995 average of 19 abortions per 1,000 live births was slightly below the national average that year of 20.

A governor's panel on which I served recommended last year that Hawaii open doctor-aided death to those with unbearable suffering that cannot be remedied as well as to the terminally ill, who are the only persons covered in Oregon. Only 15 used the Oregon law last year. With only a third of Oregon's population, it is unlikely Hawaii would have as many as 100 a year even with broadened permission.

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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