Stephen Leacock, Canada’s most honoured humourist, once proclaimed: “When I state that my lectures were followed almost immediately by the union of South Africa, the banana riots in Trinidad and the Turco-Italian war, I think the reader can form some opinion of their importance.”
Leacock, of course, was being facetious. But his audience could not have been receptive of his humour if they were not already appreciative of a principle entirely devoid of humour, namely, that correlation is not the same as cause.
There is nothing humorous about Donohue and Levitt’s recent study that draws a correlation– without establishing a cause – between abortions in the 1970s and a drop in the crime rate twenty years later. Nothing humorous, that is, unless one has a morbid sense of humour and appreciates the irony in the fact that society has arbitrarily redefined abortion itself as no longer a crime but a choice. If society redefines shoplifting as “liberating goods from the hands of capitalistic merchants,” a sharp decline in criminal behaviour could be expected to follow.
According to John Donohue III, a Stanford University Law School professor, and Steven Levitt, a University of Chicago economist, “This study provides strong evidence that unwanted children are likely to be disproportionately involved in criminal activity.”
What is the real cause of the drop in the rate of crime? Is it abortion? Or could it be something else? James Allan Fox, a professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University, contends that it is more likely the result of a decline in the crack cocaine market, more community policing, grass-roots community efforts to reduce crime, increased incarceration rates, and an aging baby-boomer population. These factors coincided with a decline in the crime rate, but may not have been brought about by abortion.
Sociology is not remotely close to being an exact science. Human beings are free, their lives are exceedingly complex, and their futures are largely unpredictable. The thought that society can reduce crime in the future by aborting potential criminals in the present is extremely dangerous.
In 1907, Gertrude C. Davenport wrote an article entitled, “Heredity Crime,” which appeared in the American Journal of Sociology. She argued that social programs aimed at preventing crime could not stop “habitual criminals,” whose defective heredity placed them “outside the pale of beneficent environment.” Views such as hers helped bring about the sterilization or castration of habitual criminals.
The eugenicist and even racist implications that many critics of the Donohue-Levitt study perceive have made it almost universally unpopular. But it does have an ardent supporter in psychiatrist Fred Goodwin, head of the Center on Neuroscience, Medical Progress and Society at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Dr. Goodwin thinks that abortion rates could well be a factor in reducing crime since most abortions, he says, are sought by single young women, and “the absence of fathers is the biggest single predictor of antisocial behaviour.”
This latter opinion is of particular interest in the light of a provocative piece that appeared in the June, 1999 issue of American Psychologist. In their article, “Deconstructing the Essential Father,” authors Silverstein and Auerbach claim that fathers are not essential to the well-being of children.
The information glut that deluges our social landscape is also a battle between competing ideologies. One group promotes choice, another advances homosexual marriage, yet another advocates ethnic cleansing, etc. What is often lost, as various writers spin their material in various ideological directions, is the notion of justice.
Some abortionists may think that “reducing crime” is another good reason to keep abortion legal and readily available. They may think that abortion is actually providential insofar as it protects property and contributes to law and order. Yet, from the standpoint of justice, abortion remains a violation of that right to life to which every unborn child has an innate and inalienable claim. Abortion is not prudent and providential, it remains callous and criminal.
The Donohue-Levitt study completely skirts the moral dimension of abortion. In this regard, one may be reminded of what G.K. Chesterton once said of certain sociological studies: they are used the way drunkards use lampposts, not for illumination, but merely for something to lean on.