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Legalized Abortion and the Homicide of Young Children: An Empirical Investigation

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Recent research has drawn a link, sometimes a causal link, between the legalization of abortion in the late 1960s and early 1970s and the precipitous decline in crime in the 1990s. Abortion is posited to have reduced the number of potential victims and potential perpetrators, and the potential effect is examined when these individuals would be reaching their high-crime years. We examined a more proximal potential association between legalized abortion and homicide, specifically, the homicide of young children. Assuming that abortions occurred when the family had insufficient resources for the birth, one could hypothesize that children would have been at higher risk of homicide if born into these circumstances. We examined 1960-1998 U.S. mortality data for children under 5 years of age using an interrupted time series design. The legalization of abortion was not associated with a sudden change in child homicide trends. It was, however, associated with a steady decrease in the homicides of toddlers (i.e., 1- to 4-year-olds) in subsequent years. Although in the predicted direction, the decrease in homicides of children under 1 year of age was not statistically significant. Competing explanations that could be examined in the data (e.g., changes in mortality classification) do not account for the findings.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of California, Los Angeles

Publication date: December 1, 2002

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