The Real Inequality in New York City

At the January 1 inauguration ceremony for New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, the Rev. Frederick Lucas, pastor of the Brooklyn Community Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant, invoked God’s help to “let the plantation called New York City be the city of God.” While he was echoing Mayor de Blasio’s concerns about inequality, many denounced the rhetoric. Even the editorial board at the New York Times described the inauguration day speeches as “backward-looking, both graceless and smug.”

But, for those in the pro-life community, Rev. Lucas’s words may have had some resonance.  Pro-lifers know that for the unborn, especially the unborn children of black women, New York City has become a cruel place where unwanted children are easily discarded. In fact, there are some New York City neighborhoods—including the Rev. Lucas’s own Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood—where many more babies are aborted each year than are allowed to be born.

An analysis of New York City abortion rates and ratios by zip code published by the Chiaroscuro Foundation—a non-profit research organization committed to “starting a conversation” about abortion rates in New York City—reveals that Bedford-Stuyvesant has the highest rates of abortion in Brooklyn with an abortion ratio of 59 percent.  This means that there are 59 abortions to every 100 pregnancies in Rev. Lucas’s neighborhood. And, while that may seem high, the abortion ratios in Jamaica, Queens and Southeast Queens, and Central Harlem-Morningside Heights are all well over 60 percent.

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New York is indeed a tale of two cities.  While more than half of the pregnancies in many of New York City’s black and Hispanic neighborhoods end in death for the unborn child, only 6 percent of the pregnancies for women living on Manhattan’s affluent Upper East Side zip code of 10162 end in abortion.  And, only 6.7 percent of all the pregnancies in the similarly affluent Lower Manhattan zip code of 10282 end similarly. Likewise, Brooklyn’s Borough Park zip code 11219 has an abortion ratio of 8.6 percent, and even the middle-class Long Island City-Astoria in Queens has a comparatively lower abortion ratio of 16.9 percent.

The tale is even worse for New York City’s teens—especially the City’s black teens.  According to the New York City Department of Health, among non-Hispanic black teens, the abortion rate is 72 percent.  What this means is that for every 1,000 black babies born to teens, 2,630 were aborted.

According to the most recent abortion data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on November 29, 2013, white women in New York City have a rate of abortion of 11.5 percent, while the city’s Hispanic women’s rates are 33.8 percent. Black women in the City have a rate of 48.1 percent.

To understand the dramatic discrepancies in abortion rates, it is helpful to look at U. S. Census Bureau data on households in 2010 and correlate this data with the abortion data.  Such correlations reveal that the New York City zip codes with the highest abortion ratios also have some of the highest percentages of families with female householders—with no husband present.

Things will likely get worse for the unborn in New York City.  As candidate, Mayor de Blasio issued a position paper titled “Standing With the Women of New York City” in which he promised to work with abortion providers to “ensure adequate protection for clinic access by ensuring close coordination with the NYPD.”  He also promised to “work with non-profit providers to identify neighborhoods underserved by reproductive health services.”

Worse, Mayor de Blasio vowed to close down the pro-life crisis pregnancy centers by promising to “continue New York City’s appeal of a judge’s order overturning New York’s local law to regulate sham crisis pregnancy centers.”  De Blasio pledged to work to “craft new regulations to prevent these centers from masquerading as legitimate healthcare providers.”  For Mayor de Blasio, pro-life crisis pregnancy centers—those that offer pregnancy testing, counseling, as well as financial and practical assistance to women faced with unplanned pregnancies—are “sham” clinics because they do not offer “legitimate health care” through abortion.

Progressive politicians like de Blasio have a long history of attempting to close down crisis pregnancy programs in the City.  While he served as New York State’s attorney general, Eliot Spitzer attempted to block crisis pregnancy centers from implementing ultrasound technology in their own facilities.  A decade ago, Spitzer issued thirty four subpoenas to centers throughout the state of New York that he “suspected of deceiving women about their services or practicing medicine without a license.”  Spitzer claimed that the centers were involved in “subversive activities” like providing pregnancy counseling coupled with ultrasound imaging to expectant mothers—but were not providing abortion counseling.

Politicians like Mayor de Blasio and former Attorney General Spitzer work closely with reproductive rights advocacy groups to attack the crisis pregnancy centers.  Spitzer worked with Family Planning Advocates of New York State—an umbrella group that includes seventy-eight family planning clinics and abortion facilities, including fifteen operated by Planned Parenthood.  Spitzer claimed to be responding to complaints that the crisis pregnancy centers “lure women with the promise of reproductive health services, only to present them with anti-abortion messages.”  It is as likely that he was responding to complaints from those in the abortion industry about what they see as competition.

While Spitzer was unsuccessful in closing the crisis pregnancy centers, his legacy has been to make life very difficult for them—even a decade after his campaign against them.  In 2005, Spitzer issued subpoenas demanding that the centers provide his office with copies of all advertisements, website addresses, services provided, names of staff members, training materials, and blank forms and records of all agreements made.

Working closely with Spitzer in the campaign against the pro-life crisis pregnancy centers, JoAnn Smith, president and chief executive officer of Family Planning Advocates, warned that “a new trend at the centers is to offer sonograms.”  The ultrasound technology especially concerned Smith because she claimed that the centers “lacked the medical personnel and licenses necessary to provide the services correctly…. We are not trying to close down the facilities, but we take seriously a woman’s right to reproductive services.”  The fact that all this legalese masked an effort to close these facilities down was revealed by the NARAL Pro-Choice America website, featuring a program in which they ask women to participate in undercover sting operations designed to “expose the true nature and tactics of deceptive crisis pregnancy centers.”

It is likely that Mayor de Blasio will employ Spitzer’s tactics.  Yet, the reality is that it is hard to stop a medical technology in a free market.  New York City’s stellar Mid-Town Pregnancy Support Center offers pregnant women free pregnancy tests, access to free state-of-the-art ultrasound technology, and “healthy holistic support with access to over 400 practical referrals and resources so you can face the future with confidence and hope.”

The ultrasound technology makes a difference—and Mayor de Blasio must know that. Even the New York Times acknowledged (in 2005), in a front page report by Neela Banerjee on the use of ultrasound technology in crisis pregnancy centers throughout the country, that women who had visited these centers with the intention of getting an abortion, often changed their minds once they saw the ultrasound images.

Of course, Mayor de Blasio will have plenty of help in continuing to expand the tale of two cities through abortion. Andrew Cuomo—New York’s Catholic Governor—supported the Women’s Equality Act, which promised to expand access to abortion—extending the time period that women can get an abortion throughout the full nine months of her pregnancy. Governor Cuomo has also proposed that abortions may be performed by doctors and non-doctors alike—thus expanding dramatically the pool of abortion providers.  Likewise, President Obama has done even more to help increase the number of abortions for New York City’s poorest women through his Affordable Care Act.

The Catholic Church in New York City can play a role in helping to prevent some of this.  On January 6, 2011, Cardinal Timothy Dolan participated in a press conference on the rising abortion rates in the City held by the Chiaroscuro Foundation.  In his remarks Cardinal Dolan said: “That 41 percent of all New York babies are aborted—a percentage even higher in the Bronx—and among our African American babies in the womb—is downright chilling.”

Editor’s note: This column first appeared January 12, 2014 in the Washington Times and is reprinted with permission of the author.

  • Anne Hendershott

    Anne Hendershott is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. She is the author of The Politics of Envy (Crisis Publications, 2020).

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