Thursday, March 08, 2007


(Relax...I didn't get anyone pregnant....)

I've been spending a fair amount of time pondering how to approach the topic of abortion, since I've had the chance to finish Freakonomics.

You may recall this book was involved in the abortion controversy in two sidebars: first, this is the book that claims the legalization of abortion was directly and primarily responsible for the drop in crime the United States saw in the 1990s (and has some compelling evidence to back it up), and was also cited by Bill Bennett in his ill-fated "kill all black babies, crime goes down" interview (which the authors did not say).

I'm not going to discuss the crime-abortion connection, but there was something that the authors mentioned in a follow-up blogpost (regarding Bennett's remarks) that caught my eye:
4) When a woman gets an abortion, for the most part it is not changing the total number of children she has; rather, it is shifting the timing so those births come later in life. This is an important fact to remember. One in four pregnancies ends in abortion and this has been true for 30 years in the U.S. But the impact of abortion on the overall birth rate has been quite small.
In 1972, the year before Roe v. Wade was passed, the birth rate in the United States was 15.6 per 1,000 people, man or woman. In 1994, it was 15.4. In 2001, it was 14.1.

In effect, the ability to have a legal abortion had no real effect on the birth rate of this country.

As Levitt and Dubner point out, this means that abortions don't stop women from having babies, but abortion allows them to choose when to have a baby. Most of the women who have abortions go on to have the same number of babies, only when they are better financially and emotionally able to care for them.

Which raised an issue in my mind: all we hear from the strident right wingers who oppose abortion is how many "dead babies are killed" each year by abortion. Why hasn't anyone responsibly pointed out that, given that assumption, what about all the babies that the right wing are killing in absentia by trying to stop abortions?

Think about it: if a woman has two children (fairly average number), and if instead of having them at age 19 and 23, she has them at, say 23 and 29, if by saying she HAS to have the first set, aren't we essentially condemning the latter babies to hell? That kid she has at 19, you could say, is the one she's not going to have at 29, and that poor soul is floating around baby limbo.

Just some food for thought. Obviously, I haven't thought this through enough to articulate a position on it more clearly, but I'm sure someone will seize the opportunity to make me look bad ;-)