Democratic lawmakers and civil rights leaders denounced conservative commentator William J. Bennett yesterday for suggesting on his syndicated radio show that aborting black children would reduce the U.S. crime rate.
The former U.S. education secretary-turned-talk show host said Wednesday that "if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose -- you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down." Bennett quickly added that such an idea would be "an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do." But, he said, "your crime rate would go down."
Bennett's comments, flagged by the liberal news media watchdog group Media Matters for America, were quickly condemned by Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who issued a statement demanding that Bennett apologize. Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) circulated a letter, signed by 10 of his colleagues, demanding that the Salem Radio Network suspend Bennett's show.
Wade Henderson, the executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, demanded that the show be canceled.
"Bennett's statement is outrageous. As a former secretary of education, he should know better," Henderson said. "His program should be pulled from the air."
A spokeswoman for Salem Radio Network did not return three calls requesting comment.
Bennett, education secretary under then-President Ronald Reagan and director of drug policy during George H.W. Bush's administration has written a number of books stressing the importance of traditional values, including the 1993 bestseller "The Book of Virtues."
In 2003, he admitted he was a heavy gambler after news reports that he had lost millions of dollars in casinos.
Bennett's comments came Wednesday, during a discussion on his talk show "Morning in America." A caller had suggested that Social Security would be better funded if abortion had not been legalized in 1973 because the nation would have more workers paying into the system.
Bennett said "maybe," before referring to a book he said argued that the legalization of abortion is one of the reasons the crime rate has declined in recent decades. Bennett said he did not agree with that thesis.
"But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose -- you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down," Bennett said, according to an audio clip posted on Media Matters for America's Web site. "That would be an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. So these far-out, these far-reaching, you know, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky."