More than half of pregnancies in Bedford-Stuyvesant end in abortion, one of the highest ratios in the city and more than double the ratio for the United States as a whole, according to data from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The neighborhood statistics were obtained from the health department by the pro-life Chiaroscuro Foundation through a Freedom of Information Law request. According to the data, broken down by ZIP code, the highest abortion ratios in Brooklyn were for Brownsville and Bedford-Stuyvesant, with 59 percent and 52 percent respectively.
The data represent the so-called Guttmacher abortion ratio, which is induced terminations as a percentage of all pregnancies excluding miscarriages. The Guttmacher Institute is a nonprofit focused on sexual and reproductive health.
The ratios for the two neighborhoods are strikingly higher than the Guttmacher ratio for the nation as a whole, which has been hovering in the low twenties for several years. They are also significantly higher than the 41 percent average in New York City as a whole.
“Numbers for the whole city are sort of abstract,” said Greg Pfundstein, executive director of the Chiaroscuro Foundation, of his organization’s decision to seek hyper-local data. “If you can look and see that in your own neighborhood the abortion ratio is so high, it brings the reality closer to you. So if you live in Bed-Stuy, for instance, you can look and realize: wow, that’s high, I should talk to my kids.”
Nationally, abortion has been on the decline for decades. A 2008 study conducted by Guttmacher researchers found that 30 percent of viable pregnancies were terminated in 1980. The number dropped to 28 percent in 1990 and 22.4 percent in 2008.
But the ZIP code statistics reveal that certain communities are still seeing a significant number–even a majority–of pregnancies end in abortion. According to Pfundstein, this is a reality either overlooked or misunderstood by many.
“People think of abortion as something that should exist because every once-in-a-while, people make mistakes. But when you see rates [like Bed-Stuy’s], it doesn’t seem like a once-in-a-lifetime mistake anymore. People’s idea … of abortion and the reality of abortion don’t line up so well.”
A Bed-Stuy community board official, however, said the ratio was not excessive.
“If the abortion rate is high, that’s because it should be high, because it needs to be high,” said Edna Johnson, chair of Community Board 3’s Health and Hospital Committee.
“These kids need to be in school, not on the streets trying to feed a child,” she said, referring to Bedford-Stuyvesant’s large number of poor, uneducated, and sexually active young people.
The abortion data published by the Chiaroscuro Foundation also included various other categories of information, much of which is concerned with racial demographics.
The data show that the fifteen ZIP codes with the highest abortion ratios were, on average, 67 percent black, whereas the 15 ZIP codes with the lowest abortion ratios had a black population of only 4 percent.
Emphasis on race can be misleading, Pfundstein said, because it is not the factor most closely correlated with the abortion data.
“We found that the only really good indicator of a neighborhood’s [abortion] numbers was the percent of female householders with no husband present,” he said.
According to the 2010 Census, single-mother households significantly outnumber husband-wife units in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Other studies show evidence that such indicators are themselves mere proxies for the underlying cause of high abortion ratios: poverty.
“Poor women are more likely to get pregnant when they didn’t want to, and, in turn they have more abortions and more unplanned birth,” explained Rachel Jones, Senior Research Associate at the Guttmacher Institute. “Rates of poverty are higher for Black (and Latina) women, and this partially explains why they have higher abortion rates and ratios and higher levels of unplanned births.”
Analysis of the data shows a discrepancy in the way Brownsville and Bed-Stuy ZIP codes were defined.
The Chiaroscuro Foundation allocated to “Bedford-Stuyvesant-Crown Heights” data for ZIP code 11212, which actually belongs to nearby Brownsville. The designation was consistent with the way the New York State Department of Health assigns ZIP codes to neighborhoods. But in fact that postal code falls entirely outside of the borders of Bed-Stuy’s Community Board 3.
Bedford-Stuyvesant’s four principle ZIP codes had a Guttmacher ratio of 52 percent, with 4,606 live births and 4,931 abortions.
In addition to Brownsville, with 59 percent, other Brooklyn ZIP codes with abortion ratios over 50 percent included East New York, Canarsie, Flatbush, and East Flatbush. The ratio for the borough as a whole was 39 percent.
Earlier press reports about the data focused attention on the Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea, which had a city-high 67 percent abortion ratio. However, with only 39 live births and 80 abortions, that neighborhood’s numbers were low in absolute terms, particularly relative to the many postal codes reporting over 1000 abortions, including Bed-Stuy and Brownsville.
Editor’s Note: An earlier headline indicated that these abortion rates were boroughwide. The Ink regrets the error.