March 08, 2006

Doing the numbers

from - RSA

The pro-life movement has consistently argued that abortion equals murder, and now we're beginning to see some political movement on the issue. (See smijer's post on the controversy, below.) I'd like to look into the concrete implications of the pro-life argument.

From countless re-runs of lawyer-driven TV shows, we all know that there's no statute of limitations on the crime of murder. If abortion really is murder, then what the past 34 years since Roe v. Wade have given us is just a lengthy period of delayed justice. What can we expect to happen if abortion is recategorized as murder? One answer is that people will start going to jail. A lot of people. Here are a few back-of-the-envelope calculations, guaranteed not to be accurate, but sufficient to give the big picture.

The National Right to Life organization has it that 47,282,293 abortions have been carried out in the U.S. between 1972 and 2004. (This seems high, but it's not unreasonable to use pro-life numbers when arguing against their case.) By now, this number should have reached an even 50 million.

In many cases, a single abortion will be all that a woman will ever have. Kevin Drum references an article in TNR that says the prevalence of repeat abortions has not been studied in detail, but if it's true that every year about half of the abortions carried out are repeats, then we can reasonably estimate that there have been 25 million first-time abortions carried out since 1972.

How many of these 25 million woman are alive today? A woman who was 40 years old in 1972 would now be in her mid-70s today, so we have to imagine a very large percentage: 80%, perhaps? That makes 20 million women. Some number of these women were married at the time of their abortion. Let's conservatively put the number at 15%, to encompass all those who talked the procedure over with their husbands: 3 million men who actively participated in the planning. We could add the number of doctors who have performed abortions over the past few decades, but let's stop at this point: 23 million people who decided an abortion should take place.

There was a big splash in the news a few years ago, when the size of the prison population in the U.S. topped 2 million. That's about 701 prisoners per 100,000 citizens. Those who sincerely believe that abortion is murder are arguing, whether they realize it or not, that the number of people in prison should be increased by a factor of 11. That's a 1150% increase. We'd have not 0.5% of our population in prison, as is the case today, but over 7%. One out of every 15 people. The most repressive societies in history have never approached this number.

So, what do we think? If abortion really is murder, are we ready to face the consequences of that view?

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Posted by RSA at March 8, 2006 01:55 PM
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