The Corner

NYC, Abortion Capital

Today the Chiaroscuro Foundation released an interactive map illustrating the abortion ratio by zip code in New York City from 2000 to 2009. This is a continuation of our effort to raise awareness of the extremely high rate of abortion in New York City.

Much could be said about these data. While the total number of abortions, as well as the abortion ratio, is down over the period citywide, both the number of abortions and the abortion ratio increased in the majority of zip codes, indicating uneven progress. The number of live births also increased in the majority of zip codes. A number of zip codes were among the ten zip codes with the highest ratio for at least five years. Two zip codes, 11212 and 11233, were in the top ten in eight of the ten years, and one, 11216, was in the top ten every year. These three zip codes are contiguous in central Brooklyn, at the confluence of the Brownsville and Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhoods.


The highest annual abortion ratio in any zip code in the period was 72.7 percent in Queens’s lightly populated 11430 in 2001, with 16 abortions and 6 live births. 11430 had the highest abortion ratio in the city three times over the period. Other sparsely populated zip codes had ratios well above 60 percent on several occasions in the ten-year period, but zip codes with substantial populations and larger numbers of both abortions and births tend to top out at about a 60 percent abortion ratio and go down from there toward the citywide ratio of 41 to 43 percent. Jamaica’s 11434, for example, averaged 951 abortions and 690 live births per year over the period, and had an abortion ratio ranging from a high of 60.1 percent in 2000 to a low of 56.4 percent in 2007, with an average ratio of 57.98 percent. Neighboring 11413 had an average ratio of 58.36 percent.

The data could be compared with 2000 and 2010 census data, economic data, gentrification trends, and other relevant data to develop a broader picture of the factors that contribute to high and low abortion rates in the city, and we would encourage such analysis. Our more immediate purpose in publicizing New York City’s abortion data is to make plain the reality of abortion in America under Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton.

New York is one of the states with the most complete abortion license in the nation. Beyond the fact that in New York only a licensed physician can (legally) perform an abortion, and that there is a 24-week gestational age limit, a woman can procure an abortion in New York for any reason with no interference. New York City’s abortion regime is America’s abortion regime: What is emanating from the penumbras of the Constitution is the fact that in parts of Jamaica, Queens, over the last ten years, six out of every ten women with a viable pregnancy procured an abortion.

But this is not the way Americans think we should deal with abortion. Fifty-nine percent of Americans believe that abortion should either be illegal in all circumstances (21 percent) or legal in only a few circumstances (38 percent), according to a 2011 Gallup poll. Only 26 percent of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in all circumstances, as it is in New York. According to the same poll, there are some points of agreement between self-identified pro-life and pro-choice Americans, including the views that abortion should be legal when a woman’s life is in danger (97 percent pro-choice / 69 percent pro-life); that abortion should be legal when pregnancy is caused by rape or incest (91/59); that informed consent should be required for abortion patients (86/87); that parental consent should be required for minors (60/81); that a 24-hour waiting period should be required for women seeking abortions (60/79); and that abortion should be illegal in the second trimester (52/90).

Yes, 52 percent of pro-choice Americans think abortion should be illegal after twelve weeks. Notice how different the reality on the ground in New York under Roe v. Wade is from the way the majority of all Americans, including the majority of pro-choice Americans, think it should be. Our poll of New York City residents last year found the same support among New Yorkers for sensible restrictions on abortion: 90 percent of New Yorkers support providing women with accurate information about their options and about the abortion procedure before the abortion; 63 percent oppose allowing minors to receive an abortion without parental consent, including 52 percent of pro-choice New Yorkers; and 51 percent of New Yorkers support requiring a 24-hour waiting period until the NYC abortion rate drops to the national average (pro-choice women were split on this point, 44-44).

Notwithstanding the national and local consensus in favor of sensible restrictions on abortion, the New York state legislature just completed its annual ritual of introducing the Reproductive Health Act, which would make New York a safe haven for late-term abortionists who would face no criminal penalties in a paradise for the abortion industry.

Abortion is not rare. It is not just something that women can resort to for that once-in-a-lifetime mistake. Abortion is commonplace in New York. More than half of all abortions in New York over the last ten years were repeat abortions. In large swaths of New York City, more than half of all viable pregnancies end in abortion. And abortion is not without consequences for women’s physical and mental health, and for their ability to have healthy pregnancies in the future. Americans and New Yorkers, even those who believe that women should have a legal right to abortion, are not indifferent toward abortion and are shocked to find out how common it is in New York City.

The abortion industry, most notably embodied by America’s largest abortion business, Planned Parenthood, contends that it has the solution to the problem it created in the form of “increased access” to universally available contraception and wider distribution of its marginally effective radical sexual-education programs. Such a contention displays a startling lack of imagination. Note that New York City passed out 40 million free condoms in 2009, requires coverage of contraception by all insurance plans, and has had radical sex ed in the schools for some time (and now mandates it). Interested observers would do well to actually listen to the women who do not avail themselves of the ubiquitous and free contraception and try to understand what complex social dynamics are at work. Sociologists Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas did just this in their excellent book Promises I Can Keep. When they asked women whether their failure to use contraception was due to a lack of access, the women laughed and explained that everyone knows where the family-planning clinics are; it is never even necessary to check the address in the phone book.

Instead, we should look to the body of social science literature that shows a correlation between sensible restrictions on abortion and decreased abortion rates. We should look to enlightened European countries like Germany, which allows abortion only in the first twelve weeks and requires that a woman receive counseling from one organization, wait 72 hours, and receive an abortion from another organization. The abortion rate in Germany is well under half of the abortion rate in the U.S., which is about half of the abortion rate in New York City.

Most Americans and most New Yorkers agree that abortion should be legal in at least some circumstances. That’s not changing any time soon. But most Americans never imagined that the legal-abortion regime of Roe v. Wade would result in NYC’s extremely high abortion rate. What Roe wrought is NYC, 41 percent.

— Greg Pfundstein is executive director of the Chiaroscuro Foundation.


The Latest