Sunday, January 9, 2011

NYC Abortion Rate

A report (1) was released recently from the Bureau of Vital Statistics that indicated that 39% of pregnancies in New York City and the surrounding boroughs end in abortion. According to the report, there were 225,667 pregnancies in 2009, with 87,273 ending in abortion. To put that in perspective, Guttmacher reported in 2008 that 19.6% of all pregnancies nationwide were ending in abortion (2). So the rate in NYC is twice the national average.

If you split the data up by borough, it looks like this:

Percentage of Pregnancies Ending Abortion
Bronx - 47.9%
Brooklyn - 39.3%
Queens - 38.7%
Manhattan - 37.9%
Staten Island - 32.2%

And just for fun, I looked up the poverty information for those areas:

Percentage Living Below the Federal Poverty Line (as of 2009)
Bronx -28.5%
Brooklyn -24.2%
Queens -14.6%
Manhattan -16.6%
Staten Island -10%

Percentage Living Below 50% of the Federal Poverty Line (2009)
Bronx - 13.7%
Brooklyn - 11.6%
Queens - 7.3%
Manhattan - 6.8%
Staten Island - 5.3%

So the areas with larger numbers of impoverished people also have higher abortion rates. This is not a coincidence. If someone is already struggling to make ends meet, pay bills, put food on the table for the kids she already has, how is she supposed carry an unwanted pregnancy to term and pay for all the expenses that come a long with a baby? Further, when you factor in the unemployment rate, the economy sucking for that past couple of years, etc, it shouldn’t really be that surprising women choosing to have abortions.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan said at a press conference, “That 41%(3) of New York babies are aborted, a percentage even higher in the Bronx and among our African-American babies in the womb, is downright chilling.” He then proceeded to criticize sex education programs that promote condom distribution (!).

Dolan’s statement is painting these poor, low-income women as some sort of villains. Using the language “downright chilling” in the same sentence as “babies in the womb” reminds me a lot of “cold blooded murder.” Not that I think that’s what he is necessarily saying, but, you get my point.

I’m sorry, but whose 'fault' is it that these women need abortions? How did they get pregnant? Families from poor areas are more likely to receive NO sex education (4), so they are less likely to be informed about birth control. They are less likely to be able to pay for birth control. They are less likely to have resources to go to a doctor to get their BC prescription refilled. I could go on. Getting resources like Medicaid, food stamps, etc. requires breaking through absurd amounts of red tape. Yet, antis will stop at nothing to prevent these women from obtaining abortions. Sorry, but a basket of baby formula and a few blankets isn’t going to get up in the middle of the night and check on a crying baby. Coupons for discounted diapers aren’t going to pay for new clothes every couple months as the baby grows.
As I looked through the report one thing that struck me was the abortion rates have actually been pretty consistence for the NYC region.

Since the 90s, the number of miscarriages, abortions, and live births has actually declined. However, what is happening in NYC is not a new phenomenon by any stretch of the imagination. New York has had higher abortion rates for the past couple of decades. Why?

I would guess for a bunch of reasons:
• New York has a high number of abortion providers, whereas most places in the US do not.
• Access there is much easier also with the expansive public transportation system.
• New York has a high number of young people. Younger women are more likely to have abortion.(5)

So, what do we take away from this?

First, I think that these religious groups are approaching this in the wrong way. Speaking of this situation in a negative way further stigmatizes abortion. Women go through enough when they have an abortion; they don’t need anyone from our society making them feel shamed or bad about it. If people truly want to reduce the abortion rate, they need to turn to birth control. Access to and proper use of birth control is the easiest and most effective way to reduce unintended pregnancies. Abstinence education does not work.(6) If you want women who do end up getting pregnant to carry the pregnancy to term, expanding social welfare programs to enable her to actually provide for her children would be a good step. Of course, that would require antis to pay more taxes (re: not happening).

What do you guys think? What else can be done to help improve the situation for pregnant women in NYC?

(3) This group included spontaneous miscarriages (aka, natural, natured-produced miscarriages) in their abortion numbers for some reason. I guess because 41% sounds a lot scarier than 38.6%? Anyway, 87,273/225,667 = 38.673%.
(5) I am not suggesting that college chicks get knocked up and get abortions as a method of BC (ala any of those stereotypes). Women under 20 have 18% of all abortions, ages 20-24 is 33%, ages 25-29 is 24%, ages 30-35 is 14%, ages 35+ is 11%.


  1. This is really fascinating comparing abortion rates to poverty rates in certain areas.

    I also wonder how they are counting pregnancies and abortions, and how closely linked these are to place of residence. NYC is one of the most difficult and inhospitable places to have and raise children even for wealthy people. People tend to move out of the city when they get pregnant to have the baby elsewhere. I would also wager that people travel into the city to have abortions who live in other parts of the state. Are they only counting women in these numbers whose primary place of residence is in NYC, or are these just abortions that happened in NYC?

  2. cosmicrays, these are good questions. One thing worth noting: the CDC collects statistics in both ways -- by state of residence of the patient, AND by state where the abortion took place. So you can find out about both. I think that reports about this typically (but not always) use the figure based on state of residence. Maybe mr. banana grabber can chime in about specifically which one the source was referencing.

    Your question about how we count "number of pregnancies" is worth a quick elaboration: this figure is something we can really only estimate, because although we have reporting on MOST abortions, and nearly ALL live births and stillbirths, we only have reporting of SOME miscarriages, especially very early ones which may not require medical treatment (and frequently aren't even recognized by the woman as a miscarriage -- as in, they happen before she realized she was pregnant!).

    Number of abortions is counted based on voluntary reporting to the Guttmacher Institute by providers (mostly clinics; doctor's offices that provide abortions infrequently may not report; not sure about hospitals) and/or required reporting to specific state departments that mandate it (this is the figure that the CDC collects).


This is not a debate forum -- there are hundreds of other sites for that. This is a safe space for abortion care providers and one that respects the full spectrum of reproductive choices; comments that are not in that spirit will either wind up in the spam filter or languish in the moderation queue.