Almost 20 years ago, researchers John Donohue and Steven Levitt published a study that changed many people’s views of abortion in the United States. This summer, they’re back with a follow-up study that reaffirms their original findings — that legalized abortion has a direct effect on reducing crime in the United States.
Of course, back in 2000, their report sparked controversy — from both sides of the abortion argument. While we won’t take a stance on the ethical implications of terminating a pregnancy, in the interest of providing the best information for our birth parent audience, we’ve decided to look a little further into what this study means — and how the adoption community can learn from it.
How is Abortion Related to Crime?
Prior to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion throughout the United States, abortion was an unavailable unplanned pregnancy option for many women. Therefore, it’s reasonable to assume that those women who could not obtain an abortion illegally were forced to carry their pregnancies to term and deliver their babies. The low rate of adoption — only 9 percent of premarital births resulted in adoption at the time — lead the researchers to conclude that many of these women parented their children, even if they were not fully prepared to do so.
When Levitt and Donohue began to examine the dramatic fall of crime in the early 1990s, they realized something: Crime rates began dropping about 15 to 20 years after Roe v. Wade, at the time when those children born after 1973 would be reaching adulthood. They theorized that the two were related — that the legalization of abortion was the cause for as much as 50 percent in the drop of crime in the resulting decades.
How did they come to this conclusion?
- Because the legalization of abortion resulted in a 5 percent drop in overall birth rates, there would be a smaller cohort of crime-causing adults.
- Abortion is more frequent among parents who are least willing or able to provide a nurturing home environment — the same kind of traumatic home environment that is proven to lead to dangerous and criminal activity.
- Women who sought an abortion but were denied were more likely to parent their children than place them for adoption — but maintained a resentment toward their children and were far less likely to nurture, hold and breastfeed their babies.
Parenting a child of an unwanted pregnancy, Levitt and Donohue concluded, was more likely to result in less-than-ideal childhood conditions — a huge factor in the probability of future criminal activity. When abortion was made legal to all Americans, the resulting drop in unwanted pregnancies carried to term led to a decrease in crime 15 to 20 years later.
When the researchers repeated the study for the years 1997 through 2014, they found the same results.
A Note About “Unwantedness”
While Levitt and Donohue’s study refers to those unwanted pregnancies, we want to take a second to emphasize that no child is truly “unwanted.” Almost half of the pregnancies each year in the United States are unplanned, but not all of them are unwanted. Many parents choose to carry those pregnancies to term and raise the resulting children.
However, there is always a subset of people who make that decision when they are not truly prepared to parent. Perhaps they have children already, or they’re not in a stable financial or emotional place to raise a child. A pregnant woman may maintain feelings of resent toward the child she carries — but, even if she did not plan on becoming pregnant or does not want to keep the child, that child is not “unwanted.”
There are thousands of hopeful parents across the U.S. just waiting for the chance to adopt a child from a situation like this. Private infant adoption is a beautiful thing; it connects a pregnant mother unable or unwilling to raise her child with a family who is more than willing to do so. And, while we always respect a woman’s right to choose abortion, there are certain circumstances where this is not always possible. In those circumstances, it’s often better for a woman to choose adoption than feel forced to parent a child she’s unable to — relating back to Levitt and Donohue’s theory of “unwantedness.”
Regardless of its validity as a theory, Levitt and Donohue’s studies tell us something that we in the adoption world already know: When a parent is not 100 percent willing or ready to parent a child, the child suffers. It makes sense that child may turn to dangerous or criminal activities in the future, due the psychological trauma of growing up in an ill-prepared home environment with a mother or father who cannot give them what they deserve.
That’s why adoption professionals are always ready to help parents facing an unplanned pregnancy find the right solution for them. Whether that’s abortion, parenting, or placing a child for adoption, it is a decision that can only be made after all parties evaluate their current situation — and what they want in the future.
If you or someone you know is considering adoption as a result of an unplanned pregnancy, please contact an adoption professional today for more information.
How We Can Better Support Pregnant Women and Their Partners
Whether or not Levitt and Donohue’s theory holds up in the decades to come is unknown, but there’s one thing we can conclude from their research — more needs to be done to support women and men who find themselves facing an unexpected pregnancy.
With the high rate of unintended pregnancies in the U.S., odds are you know someone who has experienced this situation, whether or not they chose to share that detail with others. Those facing unplanned pregnancies come face-to-face with a variety of conflicting messages about their unplanned pregnancy options, which is less-than-helpful for the important decision they’re trying to make.
It’s up to all of us to help spread awareness about unplanned pregnancies and the options available to women. When expectant parents can choose each of these options without worry of financial, practical or emotional burden, the resulting situation will be much better for all involved, especially if a living child is the result.
Here’s how you can help those facing unplanned pregnancies:
1. Advocating for Better Maternity and Paternity Leave Policies
Of the 45 percent of pregnancies that are unplanned each year, 27 percent were “wanted later.” At the time of the pregnancy, expectant parents may have been financially or practically unprepared to bring a child into their family. While they did want a child eventually, the timing wasn’t quite right.
One of the best ways to make parenting more accessible for American mothers and fathers is to make it more affordable. It starts at the very beginning, with maternity and paternity parental leave policies. When a new parent must leave work for a few months to care for their new child — and receive no pay during that time — they often struggle financially. If they don’t have the savings in place for this unexpected pregnancy, parenting can seem impossible.
While there are many aspects that can make parenting more accessible — more affordable childcare, federal aid for low-income families, and more — maternity and paternity leave policies are something that everyday citizens can advocate for. Whether or not you plan on having children yourself, talk to your employer about the benefits of expanding these policies for the support new parents need.
2. Protecting Abortion Rights Throughout the U.S.
It’s no secret that Roe v. Wade has been under attack from many state legislatures. But, as Levitt and Donohue’s research shows us, restricting abortion does not create a world in which every child is born to a happy and healthy home. In fact, the effects of illegal abortion can be felt by those who aren’t even involved in an unplanned pregnancy.
To protect expectant parents’ right to choose what is best for them, abortion should continue to be an accessible, legal option. This way, those who are unprepared for the responsibility of a healthy pregnancy and raising a well-loved child can safely follow the path they want. Whether a woman addicted to drugs chooses abortion to avoid giving birth to a child with disabilities, or a couple chooses abortion together because they can’t afford the medical bills of pregnancy, they can make the choice to avoid bringing any long-term feelings of resentment and anger into their lives.
3. Spreading Awareness About Adoption
One of the best ways to avoid having a child raised by those who don’t want to be parents? Choosing adoption as an unplanned pregnancy option — and placing a child with parents who are 100 percent devoted to giving the love and opportunities that child deserves.
However, adoption is still a fairly misunderstood process, if it is even considered at all during an unplanned pregnancy. Many expectant parents never consider adoption, thinking it to be “giving away” their baby or a reflection of their failings as a parent. It’s our responsibility — and yours, too, reader — to help them understand what adoption is really like and what a beautiful solution it can be.
Spreading awareness starts with something as simple as sharing accurate adoption information and stories with your loved ones. Just keeping adoption in the forefront of people’s minds can be helpful in the case that an unplanned pregnancy does occur.
And, in case attacks on legalized abortions are eventually successful, adoption will become more important than ever. It will always be available for expectant parents — and placing a child with parents who truly want to raise a child is always a better alternative than biological parents raising a child they didn’t initially want to carry to term or to raise themselves.
Remember, adoption is always an option — and it’s a positive experience for birth parents, adoptive parents and the child at the center of it all.
Considering adoption? Contact an adoption professional for free today.