Chronicles of Human Rights: Abortions, Crime rates and Economic Growth
Let's begin with a simple question. What are the reasons for economic growth? The answers may range from raising production to making education equitable, channelizing savings into the most productive investment opportunities, and so on. Now, what if we were to tell you, that there exists a correlation between the law regarding abortion & the rate of crime, which further has a cascading effect on the economic growth of a country? You would think that the writers of this article were off their rockers. Well, let us delve deep into understanding the nuances of this unlikely match: Abortion and Economic Growth.
CASE IN POINT
On January 22, 1973, Justice Harry Blackmun of the United States Supreme Court wrote the majority opinion in the case of Roe v. Wade, which sought to legalise abortion. He wrote:
“The detriment that the State would impose upon the pregnant woman by denying this choice is apparent….Maternity, or additional offspring, may force upon the woman a distressful life and future. Psychological harm may be imminent. Mental and physical health may be taxed by child care. There is also the distress, for all concerned, associated with the unwanted child, and there is the problem of bringing a child into a family already unable, psychologically and otherwise, to care for it.”
In a nutshell, the choice of a woman not to have a child was restored to her, such that this unborn child does not have to go through a hostile environment whilst growing up and may not suffer the intricacy of unwantedness.
Now, post this landmark ruling, a study was conducted, the results of which showed that the unborn child was 50% more likely to have lived in poverty, and also 60% more likely to have grown up with a single parent. As far as indicators for propensity to commit a crime go, these are two of the major factors responsible. Another factor that plays a unique role in deciding the rate of crime is the level of maternal education. A low level of maternal education is the most powerful factor leading to criminality. In short, had these babies been born, they would have led a most unhappy life.
As Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner wrote in the book, ‘Freakonomics’,
“in the 1990s, an entire generation came of age minus those children, whose mothers had not wanted to bring a child into this world”.
This set of unborns, not only included thousands of young male criminals, but also thousands of young girls, as most of them would be forced to relive their mothers’ tendencies.
A study by Donohue and Levitt(2001) provides sufficient opportunity for us to understand the bridge which links the theory of legalising abortion and crime reduction. After 2 decades of legalised abortion, the 1990s saw a fall in criminal offences in the United States. The overall crime fell by 17.5%- which lands us on the figure of a 1% decline each year. The rates of violent and property crime each fell by 50% from 1991-to 2014. It was estimated that the share of legalised abortion in getting these declining figures was 47% for violent crime and 33% for property crime.
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
- Till now, we saw what were the effects of giving the power to decide whether or not to have a baby in the hands of the mother and the statistics of crime reduction. It would be interesting to know what made it happen.
- Less unwantedness led to parents being providers for their child’s necessities at an initial stage. The children, therefore, did not have to look for crime shelters to cover for themselves.
- Education and literacy increased in the economy because it was easier for the parents as well as the state to cater to the learning requirements of the young minds.
- This also includes confounding factors such as reduced drug use, changes in demographics and densities of the population, or other contemporary changes in the culture.
Legalised Abortion → Less Unwantedness
High Unwantedness → Higher Crime Rate
Hence, Legalised Abortion → Lower Crime Rate
CRIME AND THE ECONOMY
Next, we discuss the relationship between crime rates and economic growth. As per reports published by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), the global economic impact of violence and conflict was estimated to be $14.4 trillion in constant PPP terms, which is roughly 10.5% of the global GDP in 2019. This figure includes 3 main components - military expenditures, internal security spending, and homicide. Not only does this estimate calculate the direct cost of this expenditure, but it further points out the indirect costs of such expenditure. Concerning crime, we would restrict our analysis to homicides, the economic impact of which stands at $1.07 trillion, roughly 4 times the GDP of Pakistan in 2021.
Even during the pandemic, the National Crime Record Bureau reported 29,193 murders in 2020 in the state of Uttar Pradesh leading the tally at 3,779 murders. Furthermore, the total number of rape cases in India stood at 28,046 during 2020. Stating otherwise, there were approximately 80 murders and 77 rape cases daily in India in 2020. From a social as well as economic point of view, these numbers are extremely detrimental to the progress made by our nation since independence. In layman’s terms, these numbers flash a warning signal to businesses and investors, as it highlights the instability of institutions, low productivity, and economic activity. This leads to high unemployment rates, lower foreign direct investment, high inflation, and interest rates, and above all an underperforming and unpredictable economy with a low Gross Domestic Product.
If one were to look at the demographic information about the criminals in India, we observe that almost 53% of the prison inmates belong to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged sections of society. Scroll back to the indicators of crime, and we hope you see how the pattern keeps repeating.
Moving on to the abortion laws in India, we find that India introduced the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act in 1971, with an amendment in 2003 to ensure women have greater access to safe abortion services. However, even this amended law gives doctors and not women the final say. It is not available on-demand, meaning even if there is late detection of pregnancy due to sexual assault, the discovery of a fetal anomaly, or even changed psychological circumstances post the gestational limit of 20 weeks, a woman cannot access abortion facilities. Not only does this contribute to higher levels of maternal mortality (as per the World Health Organisation, the average maternal mortality rate is 3 times higher than average in countries with more restrictive abortion laws - 223 per 100,000 live births), but it also means that the child who is born after the mother failed to secure an abortion has to grow up under extremely challenging circumstances. Stating otherwise, the freedom of choice has been snatched away from the mother under the present abortion guidelines.
To sum it up, the thread can be linked from legalising abortion to a fall in crime and from a fall in crime to the growth of the economy. This is, of course, just one way to lift the economy by reducing criminal activities. The legislation to legalise abortion in India is still a hotly debated conundrum. We have tried to present a broader picture of how the dots are connected, how this phenomenon of legalising abortion and giving the decision-making power to the mother can eventually add a feather in the GDP’s cap. However, we are well aware that our readers may have differing opinions on this issue. Hence, we leave it to you to deliberate and decide upon whether this unconventional, yet unique correlation is the way forward for our economy.
Research by Donohue and Levitt
Freakonomics by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt.
Author: Archishman Chaudhuri and Ashma
Illustration by: Arab Kansal