Monday, January 29, 2007

Henry Morgentaler, Crime Fighter

Yesterday was the 19th anniversary of R. v. Morgentaler, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that essentially legalized abortion in Canada. Reading this Morgentaler retrospective in the Halifax Chronicle Herald, I was struck by the following quotation (from 1999):

"It is accepted wisdom that prevention is better than a cure," Morgentaler says. "To prevent the birth of unwanted children by family planning, birth control and abortion is preventative medicine, preventing psychiatry and prevention of violent crime."

Commonsensical, you would think, but in fact when Steven Levitt and John Donohue presented evidence that the legalization of abortion during the 1970s in the United States correlated well with a decline in crime that took place during the late 1990s, they stirred up enormous controversy.

However, Levitt and Donohue's theory has since been confirmed, and even replicated in a Canadian context. Given Morgentaler centrality to the struggle for legalized abortion in Canada, it is only logical that credit for the falling Canadian crime rate should at least partially go to the good doctor. Certainly, he has done more than the raftloads of "get tough" legislation that have been put in place since 1988.

Order of Canada, anyone? He deserves it way more than this guy.


Anonymous said...

No wonder the nutters hate Morgantaller. He's ruining their fun of being able to kill these criminals via the death penalty.


Yeah, distasteful, but sadly true.

Anonymous said...

Levitt and Donahue's is a crazy interesting paper. But you're a little behind on the debate, as some simple coding errors have called into question a good chunk of their findings.

It's important, too, to note that they make no normative argument for the provision of abortion. They just present the facts.

bigcitylib said...

Actually, the wiki article mentions the coding error, and that L&D and the authors of Freakonomics have already moved beyond it. Short answer: it didn't really invalidate their origonal conclusions.

And while they don't make the normative argument for abortion, I am a cold-hearted utilitarion and I would.

The Rat said...

Arguing in favour of abortion because it lowers crime rates is akin to supporting pre-emptive capital punishment. It's not the best argument, BCL, but I frankly don't expect anything better.