For three years, I had the privilege of calling the New York City borough of Manhattan home. I say it was a privilege because many Americans don’t get the chance to visit, let alone to experience on a daily basis the beauty which is New York City’s organized chaos. There’s something about “the city” that eventually draws you in, even if you ended up there incidentally like me. My husband and I still miss our time there and think fondly about the somewhat whimsical existence we had before having children and moving out to the suburbs to face reality.
When I was living in Canada, Michigan, and Indiana, New York City was a thrilling but fictional place that existed in the world of movies and books. I had never visited and didn’t think I’d get the opportunity. It wasn’t real, and neither were the people that lived there. I got the sense that NYC was a world of its own, distinct physically, socially, politically and economically from the rest of America. This sense never really left me, even after living in the heart of NYC for three years. I knew that New Yorkers relished the thought of living in a different world and wouldn’t have it any other way, but I couldn’t quite join them in their exclusivity.
After the Chiaroscuro Foundation’s release of NYC’s abortion data for the last ten years, it’s apparent that New Yorkers are different in yet another way from mainstream America: they have consistently killed almost as many children in the womb as they have birthed. In my old NYC zip code (10001), representing the northeast section of the Chelsea neighborhood, residents had more abortions than live births from 2006 – 2008 and also in 2001. (In 2008, for example, there were 199 live births and 237 abortions out of 457 total pregnancies.) In some areas of NYC in certain years, the abortion ratio reached an astounding 73%. To say it in a different way, for every four babies born in this zip code in 2001, there were seven abortions.
For a New Yorker these numbers may be surprisingly high (the overall abortion ratio in NYC for 2009 is 41%), but for the average American, they represent something scarcely believable, indeed, something from a different world. The national abortion ratio hovers somewhere around 23% (one abortion for every three live births), which is certainly terrible, but hardly surprising given the current culture and the success of Planned Parenthood in marketing and providing abortions. When I lived in the Midwest, I could sit in a boardroom and estimate that one in four women in the room had had an abortion. When I was in a NYC subway car, I’d ask myself if there were any women on the train who hadn’t aborted at least one of their children. The cultural implications of such a difference in abortion rates are difficult to comprehend, but they are certainly fundamental.
With more abortions than live births in many New York zip codes, to describe the decision to have an abortion as a “tragic decision” that many women face in a rare time of crisis is no longer to describe reality. With rates this high, abortion is a commonality for New Yorkers, and even an acceptable (and much used) form of birth control. Over half the abortions in New York City are repeat abortions. Numbers like these are the fruit of a culture with very few moral reservations about abortion, and certainly no accessibility issues. With rates this high, there seems to be a degree of flippancy about the decision to have an abortion that doesn’t exist in the rest of the country. And why not be flippant when NYC has some of the most liberal abortion laws in the country? The law is a teacher, and in NYC it’s teaching that abortion is okay, anytime, anywhere with zero restrictions.
My husband and I still miss the city. We miss having instant access to the best food, music, entertainment and excitement in the world. For as long as anyone can remember, people have been paying a premium to have these luxuries at their fingertips; today this is NYC’s legacy. But I have to wonder if a different kind of legacy will gradually rear its ugly head: can a city whose residents collectively kill just as many children as they allow live really continue to be the center of American cultural and economic life? I’m unsure of the answer, but I know that this isn’t the type of other-worldliness that should make New Yorkers proud or what thrilled me in the movies a long time ago.