Jackson Doughart: Bill Maher’s abortion-and-crime correlation

Before it gets too far away, I’d like to rebut a remark made on Bill Maher’s “Real Time” program last Friday. In the context of discussing the botched execution last month in Oklahoma, Maher and his panelists digressed to the topic of declining American crime. Guest David Frum pointed out that despite sensationalized television news coverage, which may encourage the impression of America as a violent place, crime has been steadily decreasing since the 1990s, largely thanks to crime fighting efforts.

In a bizarre comment, Maher then attributed the decline in crime to the prevalence of legal abortion since Roe v. Wade in 1973, which pre-preemptively eliminated, in his words, future members of the FBI’s most wanted list.

Here in Canada, this line of argument should put one in mind of the late Henry Morgentaler, whose own pro-abortion advocacy was predicated—at least in private, though later acknowledged in public—upon this very claim. From a 1999 magazine essay by Morgentaler:

Is there a relationship between the statistically proven decline in crime rates and access to abortion? For the last six years, in both the United States and Canada, the crime rate has steadily decreased — in particular for crimes of violence, such as assault, rape, and murder. Some demographers explain this by the fact that there are fewer young men around, and it is mostly young men who commit crimes. No doubt this is true, but what is even more important is that, among these young men likely to commit offenses, there are fewer who carry an inner rage and vengeance in their hearts from having been abused or cruelly treated as children.

Why is that? Because many women who a generation ago were obliged to carry any pregnancy to term now have the opportunity to choose medical abortion when they are not ready to assume the burden and obligation of motherhood. It is well documented that unwanted children are more likely to be abandoned, neglected, and abused. Such children inevitably develop an inner rage that in later years may result in violent behavior against people and society.

Morgentaler went on to say: “I predicted a decline in crime and mental illness thirty years ago when I started my campaign to make abortion in Canada legal and safe. It took a long time for this prediction to come true.”

I don’t suspect Maher of harbouring the same evil spirit as Morgentaler, the former having at least acknowledged that anti-abortionists have a legitimate claim about abortion being an act of killing. But he is parroting the same disingenuous argument, which even if theoretically tenable, respects no moral proportion. In Canada, the commonly-cited figure is 100,000 abortions every year. 1.06 million were reportedly performed in the United States in 2011.

Were there Charles Mansons and Timothy McVeighs among them? Surely there were. But there were no doubt Mozarts and Wilberforces and Lincolns and Picassos as well, of whom humanity has been deprived. More importantly, there were millions of innocent human beings who were violently deprived of life. And all for the sake of a lame explanation for crime reduction? This is moral obtuseness at its height.

The Hustings