The Chiaroscuro Foundation has released data on New York City’s high abortion rate by zip code. That data is depicted on a map at nyc41percent.com. The map will enable New York residents to find out what the abortion rate is in their neighborhoods, and we hope it will encourage them to consider getting involved in efforts to lower the rate at the local level.
The 2009 abortion data by zip code were obtained by the Chiaroscuro Foundation by means of a Freedom of Information request to the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Included in the data released were statistics about the number of abortions, which were repeat abortions, and the number which were paid for by Medicaid. The number of repeat abortions is disturbingly high: 56% of abortions were not the woman’s first. Only 38%, however, were paid for by Medicaid.
Regular release of current data in this form could be a valuable tool for testing various interventions in efforts to lower the abortion rate in the city. Researchers could try to find correlations between, for instance, sex education programs in schools and abortion rates, or condom distribution rates and abortion rates. Since the high rate of abortion is a problem of such magnitude, affecting nearly 90,000 women a year in New York City, the modest investment in technology and staffing resources to make such data available should be considered seriously by the City.
While many of the details revealed by this more granular data are unsurprising, several things are worth noting. First, while the Bronx is the borough with the highest rate, none of the fifteen zip codes with the highest rates are in the Bronx. Instead, the Bronx has fewer extremes, with most zip codes high but not exceptionally high (that is, at least by NYC standards; a 50% abortion ratio is exceptionally high by any other standard.) Second, the zip code with the highest ratio, 10018 at 67.23%, is actually in Manhattan, though it may be a bit anomalous because of the very low number of births. The other Manhattan neighborhood in the top five is Greenwich Village/SoHo (10012) at 60.3%. Again, it isn’t clear why this neighborhood has such a high rate, but it is notably home to Planned Parenthood’s Margaret Sanger Center and the Margaret Sanger Way segment of Bleecker Street. This, I would suggest, argues against the myth that “access” to “reproductive services” will lower the abortion rate.
Many of the other very high zip codes are as expected: relatively poor minority neighborhoods. Since the abortion ratio is higher in minority communities, this is unsurprising. Among the lowest rates, there is not a zip code with less than 57% white residents according to 2010 census data, but there are several mostly white neighborhoods among the highest rates. Unfortunately, at this point we don’t have data by race by zip code, so it is hard to know what’s going on in that respect.
One characteristic that seems to track quite well on both ends, with several outliers in the high rate zip codes but none in the low rate zips, is the percentage of households headed by a female with no husband present. This seems to indicate that the abortion rate correlates with the out-of-wedlock birth rate, which makes sense since they are really both outcomes of the same situation: an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, usually unplanned. It also points to the idea that the changes to the sex and mating market brought about by the universal availability of contraception and abortion negatively affect women by breaking down the link between pregnancy and marriage. Helen Alvare and I have both written about the ineffectiveness of contraception as a social policy recently.
We hope that a focus on this kind of granular data over time will help us all to understand what make the abortion rate high in New York City and what can be done to bring it down. New Yorkers agree that the rate is too high. An empirical approach may help us come to agree on what can be done about it.