The Instigator
Con (against)
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The Contender
Pro (for)
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Resolved: The evidence supports the Abortion-Crime link

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/24/2014 Category: Economics
Updated: 1 year ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,486 times Debate No: 67522
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (17)
Votes (2)




== Clarification ==

For those unaware, there has been a supposed link between abortion and crime rates. The argument can be found in Freakonomics and Levitt and Donahue 2001. As the theory goes, as abortion becomes liberalized, crime rates will decrease.

== Rules ==

1. Forfeiting a round will be counted as a concession
2. Arguments should be visible within the debate, sources can be placed in an outside link if needed
3. PRO will have the BOP to prove that abortion decreases crime rates
4. No semantics
5. No trolling

== Definitions ==

These really should not be clarified, as they are common knowledge and/or were referred to in the clarification section. Rules 4 and 5 also pretty much protect me from any trolling malice (looking at you, imabench ;D)

== Structure ==

R1: CON sets up the debate, PRO states his case
R2: CON presents case and refutes PRO's contentions
R3: PRO refutes CON's case and defends his case
R4: CON refutes PRO's points and defends his case, PRO writes "no round as agreed upon", or something unrelated to the debate (like how Thett3 posts random song lyrics).

I have made the debate impossible to accept. Show interest within the comment section.


I accept, thanks for having me.


The theory can be found here(1. where Donahue and Levitt argue that a relationship exist between crime and abortion and that if we were to legalize abortion, crime rates would decrease rapidly. Such a case did happen as the Supreme Court ruled abortion as part of a fundamental right(2. in 1973. My argument is simple, how does an 'unwanted child' bring about crime and how does stigmatizing children based on parental socialization leads to youth delinquency.These 2 premise are interdependent in that both is geared to prove how having undesirable children potentially leads to crime. Finally, I will provide statistical evidence from Donahue and Levitt's journal.

Social Theories Affirms Levitt-Donahue Hypothesis

The idea of having unwanted children as potential risks for crime is affirmed by sociological evidence. In order to substantiate such claim, we can trace back to the internalization and the socialization of norms which society holds. Robert Merton proffers such a case detailing the concepts of internalization(3.

As he conducted his research in the US, he noticed that the american culture socializes and instills deep success ethics into its individuals. This is when children were taught to be 'unique, successful' and to do whatever it takes to brand themselves a name. This success ethic puts society into 2 separate goals, to achieve success by being a multi-millionaire or to fail miserably and rot in society's poorest slums. There is no alternative. The problem comes with the juxtaposition of both the idealistic success ethic and the reality at which the social system allows its peers to succeed. The more children born, the less chances there are for a proper social class differentiation, hence leading to an unequal share of success. The dilemma is even compounded if we were to factor in unwanted children.

"When a system of cultural values extols, virtually above all else, certain common success-goals for the population at large while the social structure rigorously restricts or completely closes access to approved modes of reaching these goals for a considerable part of the same population...deviant behavior ensues on a large scale."-R.Merton(4.

Deviant Behaviors or non conformist norms will inevitably leads to crime. This would then increase crime rates exponentially as a result of such consequence. If we were to reverse deviant behaviours by properly plan and produce desirable children, all of which are properly alligned with the social structure, then the results would be positive.

The best explanatory predictor for criminal delinquency is the parent-child relationship

Furthermore, Donahue-Levitt claims that the simplest way to prove the theory is through evaluating smaller cohort sizes(1), especially with the onset of the legalization of Abortion.In this case, once cohort samples reached their high-crime late adolescent years, they are less likely to commit crime. The primary reason for this is that the children were seen as more desirable as families are presented with the choice to plan their way of 'doing it & producing it =P' without the fear of being forced to socialize an unwanted child. In addition to that, studies have found potential implications(5. outlining the different effects of parental socialization to children. The key point within each study is that with each coming socialization process, from the typical gender-stereotype process to the rather complex emotional expression, all of them have garnered completely different results, thereby proving how formidable parental socialization is.

It is perfectly clear that parents play an important role in socializing children because of the adverse effect it causes. Hence, this proves that the best explanatory predictor for criminal delinquency is in fact, the relationship of the parent and their child. And that if the parents neglected the care of their children which would then fall within the 'unwanted child' category as argued by Donahue-Levitt, the costs will be catastrophic as a decline in relationship would risk a decline in proper socialisation, thereby increasing the chance of deviant behavior/criminal behavior. An analogy can be similarly drawn when a child gets stuffed into a closet and left to rot for 16 years without any nurturation. The result would be calamitous as the socialisation process is neglected.Similarly the case can be applied to the above theory.

Abortion-Crime Statistics

This is one of the most common ways to substantiate the hypothesis further. Robert J.Barro said(6.

"Donohue and Levitt present three types of evidence to support their theory. First, the sharp rise in legal abortions-from fewer than 750,000 in 1973 to a plateau of
around 1.5 million a year since the early 1980s fits with the timing of the drop in national crime rates since 1991...Secondly, a few states, including New York and California, legalized abortion by 1970, three years before the U. S. Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973. As the theory implies, the early legalizers experienced falling crime rates sooner than the rest of the country. Finally, abortion rates responded to the legalization differently across states, and those with the highest rates of abortion in the 1970s experienced the sharpest drops in crime in the 1990s."

There is obviously a plethora of abortions after the supreme court's decision which cause the sudden drop in crime. States such as New York and California have experienced a particularly high abortion rate even before the supreme court's decision, if there is a correlation in that crime reduces before the ruling, the theory is obviously affirmed(1).

Opponents of such theory would argue that the evidence presented overshadowed illegal abortions, which seems to obscure statistics. The answer to this is simple as it is possible to differentiate between both in terms of costs. There are obvious class differences, and these alone will decide who will be able and unable to abort.Besides, class wise, some people are unable to afford the procedure due to their materialistically deprived status. The costs of illegal abortion as noted by Kaplan(1) is $400 to $500 while the costs to enact a legal procedure for abortion after Roe v Wade is simply $80. The costs are phenomenally cheap, as such allows for those materialistically deprived to carry out such procedure without sacrificing their financial stability.

Debate Round No. 1


I thank Nivek for accepting this debate. My case also serves as a rebuttal to many of his points.

1. Donahue and Levitt’s (DL) theory relies upon faulty assumptions

DL’s hypothesis, first published in the late 1990s, argues that increased abortion rates will decrease the amount of ‘unwanted’ children after abortion legalization. I will first explain what their theory relies upon, and why its assumptions are weak.

DL’s theory relies upon the following formula [1]:

CR = k*CRk + (1 – k) * CR (1-k).

CR is the total crime rate, and k are high risk ‘unwanted’ groups. (1 – k) are ‘wanted’ low risk groups. High risk groups could contain children raised in poverty or by single mothers. Based on this formula, abortion can affect crime rates in three ways. First, the amount of those in ‘k’ decrease—fewer teens or single mothers are having children. Abortion may also reduce criminogenic inclinations: a reduction in CRk or CR (1-k), or both. Children would become more wanted, and crime would be reduced. And the final way in which abortion can effect crime is to reduce cohort size—fewer children are… alive to reach their teenage years or early twenties. This means fewer people around at their criminal ‘peak’. Fewer males at their ‘peak’, and therefore a reduction in crime occurs. This is referred to as the cohort size effect.

DL’s theory, therefore, relies on two major assumptions. First, increased abortion rates lead to a reduced amount of “mistimed and unwanted births”, and second people from mistimed and unwanted births are positively associated with crime rates [2]. DL actually never produce evidence for these assumptions, but rather rely upon previously published literature. This is essentially what PRO argued in his case.

They present two main lines of evidence. First, states that are pre-Roe (legalized abortion before Roe v. Wade) had a 5% decrease in fertility rates relative to states that legalized abortion after Roe—Roe states. And the evidence that the fertility changes was the greatest amongst teens, unmarried and minority women. DL falsely assume that these decreases in fertility mean reduced unwanted childbearing. However, there is little evidence that abortion rates are inversely related to fertility rates. Indeed, after Roe, we see that Roe states and pre-Roe states had an increased abortion rate since legalization. And Roe states have a lower abortion rate than pre-Roe states. However, both Roe and pre-Roe states have very similar fertility levels, and as the abortion rate increased fertility rates ceased declining—indicating abortion rates may increase fertility rates, meaning more unwanted children. The fact is, there is no association between abortion rates and fertility rates, as demonstrated by the following graph [3]:

One would expect higher abortion rates to be associated with lower fertility rates if, in fact, DL’s assumptions were correct. Newer research indicates that greater acceptance of abortion led to more sex and pregnancies, and did not reduce unwanted births. Why? Even though many had the option to abort their unwanted children, the increased sex also led to more people hesitant to do so. Meaning there is, overall, little change in the amount of ‘unwanted’ children when abortion is legalized—meaning abortion cannot decrease crime [4]. In fact, the association between mistimed and unmarried births is weaker than the association between abortion and fertility. This means that DL’s theory to explain any crime drop simply does not hold up [5].

What also harms DL’s hypothesis is that abortion may reduce the wellbeing of women. In fact, economist John Lott argues that these ‘high risk’ cohorts increased in size. As noted above, more sex occurs because people perceive the threat of a child as low—they have a way out of it. However, the amount of women reluctant to get an abortion increased dramatically compared to those who actually underwent abortions, meaning there was an increased amount of out-of-wedlock births. As John Lott notes, “there was a tremendous increase in the rate of out-of-wedlock births, from an average of 5 percent (1965–69) to over 16 percent 20 years later (1985–1989). Among blacks, the number jumped from 35 percent to 62 percent” [6].

Therefore, the assumptions made by DL’s empirical models are flawed. There is no mechanism which legalized abortion could reduce the crime rate.

2. Criminological evidence denies an Abortion-Crime link

DL are aware that criminologists in this field deny any abortion-crime association. They criticize criminologists for using simple models which do not accurately gauge the effect of abortion on crime. Criminologists, however, have eviscerated the cohort effect. DL’s hypothesis predicts an increasing crime rate, and then a decreasing crime rate when those affected by abortion come of age. Indeed, criminologists find that “downturn in age-specific crime rates does not line up with the cohort’s exposure to legalized abortion” [7]. However, it is ironic that DL ignore these arguments, as they present very similar statistics in order to support their theory.

Indeed, criminologists make a similar argument as I have above. More babies were born to single mothers under age 19, and it is impossible that this would reduce crime. They generally argue that these basic demographic statistics, if anything, mean that there would be more people in the risk cohort. Therefore, if anything, crime would increase [8].

3. DL’s research is flawed

It is interesting to note that DL’s hypothesis has not been replicated. And in most cases, when economists attempt to replicate the finding, they cannot do it. In fact, economists have told me that the “argument it over” [9]. Abortion simply does not reduce crime, and DL’s hypothesis is in ruins.

Ted Joyce, one of the most vocal critics against DL, has published a lot of research on the topic. Using basic time series data—like criminologists—he finds “no consistent relationship between abortion and crime”. He then uses more sophisticated methodology, relying upon regressions. He finds that “the association between legalized abortion and crime rates is weak and inconsequential . . . [this] undermines a causal interpretation of Donohue and Levitt’s findings” [10].

PRO cites specifically DL’s 2001 paper, and this paper has received the most criticism of the bunch. Two economists from the Federal Reserve found many coding errors in DL’s regressions. When the error is corrected for, the results become much weaker. The cross-sectional analysis, of comparing different states over time, was also found to not be robust. They found that there is “no evidence that abortion reduces crime” [11].

In 2001 John Lott and John Whitley published a rebuttal to DL’s 2001 paper. Their models suggest if abortion does decrease the amount of unwanted children, crime would decrease. But they also had models which assumed an increase in unwanted children, via the research above (increased high risk births). They then, using empirical methods, must find that is the *net* effect. Overall, they found that abortion rates actually increase homicide by 0.5 – 0.7% [12].

DL’s research also assumes that the abortion rate was 0 before abortion was legal—and the pre-Roe states had more abortion than the Roe states before legalization. However, this is untrue. As criminologist James Q. Wilson argues, “there were at least as many abortions per 1,000 live births pre-Roe as in states that had made abortion legal” [13].

4. Other factors can explain the crime drop

The reason this theory became popular was due to the ‘mystery’ of the crime drop after the 1980s. There are a lot of factors, and it is still under research. Increased gun ownership and liberalized concealed carry laws could easily have contributed to the large decrease in crime [14]. The death penalty has been demonstrated to be a strong deterrent, and its increased use may have led to a significant decrease in crime [15]. In the 90s, the economy grew. The crack-cocaine epidemic ended. Policing measures became more effective. Children with lead in their blood are more aggressive, and lead exposure actually fell dramatically in the 90s [16]. There are a plethora of reasons that crime fell, and the explanation needn’t involve abortion legalization.


PRO’s case—mostly relying upon DL's assumptions—are put into question. DL’s research is flawed, criminologists dismiss the theory based off of basic data, and economists using more rigorous techniques continue to refute the theory. Crime fell due to other reasons, not liberalized abortion laws.


2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.


7. Joyce, op cit, 24.

8. Ibid.

9. Joyce, personal correspondence. “[N]o young PHD candidates study the question anymore, a sure sign that the argument it over.”

10. Joyce, Ted. “A Simple Test of Abortion and Crime,” The Review of Economics and Statistics 91(1) (2009): 1-12.









The Debate

I don't how to say this, but I can't continue the debate.I got stuff to do and I will be very busy for the next couple of days.This was a good debate, I have never gained so much knowledge from a field I'm unfamiliar with, and bear in mind everyone that 16kadams was the one who recommended me this topic, everything from the theory, every motion, every idea is all his.He made the first move in our pm and I merely took the opportunity and constructed my arguments from a map of social theories. So all of this is due to him, If you enjoyed the debate, thank him.

Lastly, I just want to say thanks to my opponent for giving me this opportunity and for educating me on a topic. Sorry 16k.
Debate Round No. 2


It's ok bruh. I will give a history of the debate.

Fox 2000 analyzes Levitt's claim in the 90s that abortion reduces crime, finds no evidence for such an effect
DL publish their theory in 2001.
Lott and Whitley respond in 2001, saying abortion increases crime.
Cook and Laumb 2002 find no evidence using basic time series data
Rosenfeld 2004, using criminologist data methods again, finds no evidence
Joyce published 2004 rebuttal
DL publish their 2004 paper, responding to criticism and providing more evidence of the abortion-crime link.
Zimring 2006 finds abortion increases high risk cohorts. Abortion cannot decrease crime.
Fox 2007 notes DL's data is incomplete
Lott and Whitley expand their datasets in 2007, using 6000 regressions, finds no abortion-crime link
Foot and Goetz 2008 find coding errors in DL's data, abortion may increase crime when corrected for (and at best, has no effect)
DL respond to new criticisms in 2008, again find a link between abortion and crime
Joyce 2009 responds to DL, and again proves abortion has no effect on crime
Joyce reviews the evidence in 2009, DL has not responded, debate is "over".


Concession. Vote 16Kadams please.

I'll be busy can't continue researching. Thanks again
Debate Round No. 3


Ok Allah loves you


My impression of you and roy Global Warming Debate (

Roy- "If I want to post 30 seconds before the deadlines, I will, because I don't race against time...time race AGAINST ME!"

16K-"There, I finished my full fledged argument, lets look at the time...Oh i still have 2 days 23 hours and 59 minutes...Should I post???Nahh I'm pretty much relaxed the whole time, not once am I ever frustrated,I'll post tomorrow."

Debate Round No. 4
17 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by MyDinosaurHands 1 year ago
I'll be voting on this soon.
Posted by Nivek 1 year ago
forgot to remind. vote 16k last round.
Posted by 16kadams 1 year ago
Posted by Nivek 1 year ago
Haha that's alright considering you've made your case way before, I just hope you're okay with me delaying till the 3rd day.
Posted by 16kadams 1 year ago
I had most of it written before you posted and when you did I noticed that it was pretty much a case and a rebuttal at the same time so I just posted it :P
Posted by 16kadams 1 year ago
I am already writing my case haha
Posted by Nivek 1 year ago
That's up to you, use your best judgement :P.
Posted by 16kadams 1 year ago
One of my arguments is kinda one sided so I'll probably not use it, it's too OP
Posted by 16kadams 1 year ago
Posted by Nivek 1 year ago
Already did :), I also just heard how levitt sounds like in real life. LOL
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by MyDinosaurHands 1 year ago
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Total points awarded:30 
Reasons for voting decision: Clear win for Con here. Pro's opening arguments were completely eviserated. Con shows that abortion rates are not inversely related to fertility rates, and in fact, they might be slightly positively related. Either way, the evidence shown indicates that increased abortion did not reduce total numbers of unwanted children, and thus, did not reduce total number of criminals. Con went further than this, and demonstrated that the vast majority of academia disagrees with Pro, and that the findings Pro uses as the basis for his position has been found to be statistically faulty.
Vote Placed by Blade-of-Truth 1 year ago
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Total points awarded:30 
Reasons for voting decision: Pro gracefully conceded the debate in Round 2. I do hope to see a rematch between you two at some point in the future! It was a very enjoyable and educational read.