The Abortion Capital of America

Is our own New York City.

New York has the highest abortion rate in the United States. One in ten abortions is performed here, and seventy percent of those are performed in New York City. But it’s not because New Yorkers are abortion-crazed heathens — it’s because New York has historically been, and continues to be, a haven of safe and accessible abortion.

Women come from all over the country to have abortions in New York. Here, low-income residents can pay for their procedures through state Medicaid funds. There are no parental consent laws, meaning that girls in this state don’t have to cross state lines or risk abuse to terminate a pregnancy. There are no waiting periods, so that when women decide to terminate a pregnancy, they can do it early — no repeat clinic visits, no paternalistic “go home and think about it” requirements.

And New Yorkers have made it this way.

New York becomes more pro-choice every year. After years of electoral free fall, the New York Right to Life Party failed to win enough votes in 2002 to stay on the ballot. The party doesn’t even have a Website anymore. The New York Right to Life Committee, which founded the national anti-abortion movement in 1967, hasn’t had a legislative victory in years. No pro-life candidate can win statewide office in New York. Ambitious Republicans climbing toward the governor’s mansion, like George Pataki, and now John Faso, hastily ditch their pro-life pasts. New York City’s mayor is one of the most pro-choice politicians in the country.

It’s worth noting that before Roe, New York passed the most permissive legal abortion law in the country — women who could afford it came in droves to safely and legally terminate their pregnancies here. This trend continues now with low-income women, whose home states employ various anti-choice policies limiting their access to the procedure.

This article also points out that abortion, in NY and in the US, is nothing new. A study from 1868 found that one in five pregnancies in New York City ended with abortion (so much for the argument that abortion is caused by sexual freedom and access to the birth control pill).

It was an NYU Law paper that first proposed that the right to abortion was included under the right to privacy. In New York City, specifically through the progressive Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square Park, a network of clergy and doctors worked together to provide women access with safe abortions — similar networks were happening across the country, like JANE in Chicago. When NARAL was formed, they focused on New York first, and were successful in passing the country’s first abortion-rights legislation.

The statistics from the time show that one of the benefits of legalization in New York was that New York women were having abortions earlier. The Alan Guttmacher Institute reported that no more than 10 percent of the city’s residents in 1972 had abortions after twelve weeks of pregnancy. For women traveling to New York City from non-border states, the rate of abortions after twelve weeks was 23 percent because of the time it took to find a provider and arrange travel and lodging in the city, especially difficult for young women who had barely ever left their own state.

The other obvious lesson from the seventies is that women with resources almost always have access to abortion. For those who couldn’t afford a trip to New York, coat hangers and knitting needles, the ghastly symbols of the early abortion-rights movement, remained a fact of life.

New Yorkers continue to have access to abortion, and even low-income residents here are able to terminate unwanted pregnancies early because of Medicaid funding. But as it’s always been for women in anti-choice states, the “right to choose” rings a little hollow:

The few existing studies on states that have passed abortion restrictions confirm the obvious: Women who want abortions leave the state to have them. Mandatory-delay laws, now on the books in 24 states, require a woman to wait usually 24 hours before getting an abortion. The versions that are the most effective in stopping abortions require women to make two trips to the provider, an obstacle for some who have to travel long distances, take days off work, or arrange day care. The most comprehensive study of these two-trip laws, a 1997 Journal of the American Medical Association paper on Mississippi’s experience, showed that three things happened in the state after the law went into effect. Total abortions went down by 12 percent. The percentage of late abortions (after twelve weeks) went up by 40 percent. And the percentage of Mississippians going out of state for abortions also went up by 40 percent. “For an economist, those are really strong behavioral responses to the law,” says Ted Joyce, the paper’s lead author.

Parental consent laws have similar effects:

“When Massachusetts imposed a consent statute, abortion rates fell a lot, 43 percent among minors,” says Joyce. “Yet if you measured abortion rates by state of residence, there was no change. Kids just poured across the border.”

Enter The New Underground Abortion Railroad. I’ve written about my experience volunteering with the Haven Coalition numerous times before, because the work that they do is so important. This article is interesting in that it explores the class differences and discomforts between the host and the patient — the women who use Haven are mostly black and Latina and always poor, while the hosts tend to be white, college-educated and middle-income. The majority of these women come to New York for second-trimester procedures because they lacked any other choice. Medicaid wouldn’t cover their procedures. They’re working at minimum-wage jobs, or not working at all — of the women I’ve met through Haven, one was a 14-year-old girl who obviously didn’t have an independent income (her incredibly supportive mother who came with her had five other children, one who herself has a child and just started college); one came from Florida, and worked two minimum wage jobs; another came from Pennsylvania and worked full-time as a drug store clerk while attending community college. It takes months for them to save up for an abortion, and they often have other children to take care of. It’s also difficult for them to take time off work, find childcare, and get to New York for the procedure.

For these women, the right to a legal abortion doesn’t mean a whole lot. Read both articles, but especially the first one. It’s eye-opening.

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27 comments for “The Abortion Capital of America

  1. December 6, 2005 at 5:33 pm

    When I was a clinic escort in Buffalo we saw an awful lot of PA & OH plates. Such a crime that women are forced to expend so much time and money to get access in other parts of the country. Talk about class warfare… it’s an attack on the poor.

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  3. December 6, 2005 at 7:03 pm

    It’s only going to get crazier if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Once abortion is illegal in Texas, if I ever need one, I figure that NYC’ll be the place to go, since I have a lot of places to crash there. I don’t imagine I’ll be the only one.

  4. December 6, 2005 at 7:05 pm

    So New York can be glad about getting all that craaaazy abortion money rolling in!

    Y’all ought to send Randall Terry a check, to speed the process.

  5. EricP
    December 6, 2005 at 7:14 pm

    I always figured that overturning Roe could a be great thing for Canada. It would help tourism. Not only are abortions cheap and trouble-free, you get to visit a foreign country, take in foreign attractions, etc. You don’t even need a passport just some kind of proof of US residency.

    Now we’ll need to compete with NYC! Bastards and bitches!


  6. Linnaeus
    December 6, 2005 at 7:26 pm

    You don’t even need a passport just some kind of proof of US residency

    Off topic, but times have changed. Last time I crossed the border into Canada, I was asked for proof of citizenship (in my case, I provided a birth certificate, but a passport would serve that function). Even if Canadian Customs doesn’t require it, per se, U.S. Customs does if I want to return to the United States. Simple proof of residency – like a driver’s license – doesn’t cut it anymore.

    Unless that’s changed again.

  7. EricP
    December 6, 2005 at 7:32 pm

    I read an interesting comment the other day which got me thinking.

    Unless Bush gets to replace another SCOTUS judge and assuming you Liberals can get your shit together and elect a President (not a really safe gamble), this might be the last chance that the anti-abortion nuts have for a long time. Given their history, neither Roberts nor Alito are likely to overturn Roe outright although they might weaken it in terms of State laws. They are both young along with quite a few other members although there are at least a couple of members who are likely to step down in the near future. The next president will decide (assuming they Stevens doesn’t step down next two years – I don’t think Ginsburg will step down voluntarily while GWB is in office). Given a history of Gore and Kerry, another republican president is likely but you guys have the ball in your court.

  8. EricP
    December 6, 2005 at 7:40 pm

    Unless that’s changed again.

    That started about 9-12 months ago (I can’t remember the exact timeframe). That will be changed back within one month. Canada, for once, flexed some muscle and any valid ID will be accepted again in the future.

  9. December 6, 2005 at 7:51 pm

    I don’t imagine it’d be like a great time traveling to get an abortion. I’d rather hang out in these cool places for better reasons.

  10. Dianne
    December 6, 2005 at 9:53 pm

    So New York can be glad about getting all that craaaazy abortion money rolling in!

    Heh. Not quite. For one thing, abortions aren’t that profitable. A first trimester abortion costs about $200-400. In medicine, that’s nothing–doctors typically charge that amount for a new patient visit. For another, anyone who stumbles into New York with no money is eligible for emergency medicaid, so we’ll be paying for abortions for the whole country. (Just as well that it’s cheap.)

  11. December 6, 2005 at 10:03 pm

    Maybe they could give out extra-salty pretzels at the clinics, and then you’d make it up on the soft drinks concession.

  12. EricP
    December 6, 2005 at 10:14 pm

    I don’t imagine it’d be like a great time traveling to get an abortion. I’d rather hang out in these cool places for better reasons.

    Of course. Or better yet, it would stay legal and available where you live. I was just joking obviously. Well partially, you Americans shoud come visit Canada (especially Quebec);-).

  13. Kyra
    December 6, 2005 at 10:22 pm

    For another, anyone who stumbles into New York with no money is eligible for emergency medicaid, so we’ll be paying for abortions for the whole country. (Just as well that it’s cheap.)

    I *heart* New York!

  14. December 6, 2005 at 10:47 pm

    The real problem is that there are a lot of ‘red’ places out there that disagree with abortion. New York is filled with colleged educated ‘blue’ people who actually plan the amount of children they have. In Colorado we are stuck with un-educated people that honestly believe that if they go to church on Sunday they can have as many children as they want without caring about how they will pay for thier food, or school. Thinking the whole time if they pray enough the children will be provided for. Unfortunately, as I have seen.. it doesn’t work that way. I am not trying to dis on churches.. just people that don’t plan for thier futures. If you cannot afford to have children.. you shouldn’t pretend that you should have them. They will become a burden for you and the people that love you.

  15. December 6, 2005 at 11:42 pm

    Colorado we are stuck with un-educated people that honestly believe that if they go to church on Sunday they can have as many children as they want without caring about how they will pay for thier food, or school.

    You know, I think it would be very interesting to see if anyone has done a study that correlates church membership with welfare rolls.

    Jym, got some data to offer on how regular church goers are more apt to be on welfare?

  16. zuzu
    December 6, 2005 at 11:58 pm

    Who said anything about welfare?

    Speaking of data, we’re still waiting for you to provide data on any denial of personal Christmas celebrations.

  17. December 7, 2005 at 12:15 am


    Jyms said they can have as many children as they want without caring about how they will pay for thier food, or school. … is that not about welfare? Or is this about people who are spending their own money in ways Jym disapproves of?

    Jyms, help me here.

    And where did I say someone’s “personal” Christmas was denied?

    I believe I pointed out the SLAPP style tactics of the ACLU and the AUSCS vis a vis LA County Supervisors, City of Redlands, Florida reading program and Mt. Soledad in San Diego and a City Manager in Eugene OR a few years back who grinched the firefighters.

    I have no respect for Falwell, Robertson or O’Reilly. They deal in hyperbole. But please don’t pretend that the PCism that ran to schools denying even the playing of INSTRUMENTAL Christmas music in “Winter Programs” didn’t happen.

  18. Marksman2000
    December 7, 2005 at 2:58 am

    Maybe they could give out extra-salty pretzels at the clinics, and then you’d make it up on the soft drinks concession.

    Ah..hahahahaha! Better still, sell T-shirts and other memorabilia in the waiting room. Post cards of the front of the clinic for that irritable ex-boyfriend. Key chains and bumper stickers for liberal moms who still think Carter was the best we’ve ever head. I can see it now…

    Yeah! Let’s hear it for New York, baby. It’s not all about the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, and Ground Zero!

  19. zuzu
    December 7, 2005 at 10:39 am

    Try here.

    Jill challenged you to come up with examples of anyone’s personal Christmas celebrations being threatened, and you responded with a story about city firefighters.

    In any event, people who believe that “the lord will provide” don’t necessarily have to believe that they’re going to depend on welfare. They may rely on church donations or hope for college scholarships. But that sort of fatalism isn’t very conducive to planning one’s future.

  20. Dianne
    December 7, 2005 at 11:35 am

    you Americans shoud come visit Canada (especially Quebec);-).

    Been there, done that, would love to do it again. Even in the winter. Especially in the winter. I like snow.

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  22. Rex Little
    December 7, 2005 at 6:49 pm

    The fact that tax money is used to fund abortions is, I think, what created enough of a backlash from the Right to make the issue as controversial as it’s been. If, in the wake of Roe, we had left it that an abortion was a purely private matter between the woman, the doctor and whoever freely chose to pay for it, I doubt that today the anti-abortion movement would amount to more than a few cranks.

    I realize that anti-abortionists don’t frame the debate that way; the religious dogmatists have the loudest voice. Nevertheless, I think resentment of having to pay for an act they opposed helped generate a critical mass among those who might otherwise have been moderates.

  23. December 7, 2005 at 8:30 pm

    I wish I did have more information about the corrolation between church goers and welfare. But I don’t. I am close to a church group through my sister, who is ‘born again’ and believed for a long time that god will provide. Her house was decorated with sayings like “let go and let god”. Many of her friends have come to the conclusion that after have 3 or 4 kids they have to re-evaluate their life outlook. In a way it is sad. It is like seeing a child realize that their is no santa claus. But on the other hand.. I pay taxes and I don’t like to see people take advantage of the system by not simply planning their lives. To be honest, I only think one of the families in her group are on welfare. I was talking more about the loved ones that take care of people who don’t plan. My family has taken responsiblity for my sister’s actions by helping her children. Buying clothing, books, food, etc. Perhaps I am jealous because I have chosen to NOT have kids. ? But I have noticed that there has been a mind shift in her church circle after the price increase in gasoline to start making life decisions on how much they can truly afford.

  24. December 7, 2005 at 9:17 pm


    Thank you for responding. Uh, can I ask

    My family has taken responsiblity for my sister’s actions by helping her children

    Where is the FATHER of the children?

    See, growing up in a Protestant home, attending temple with my Jewish friends, being married for 16 years to an Irish Roman Catholic (and attending a Catholic church for much of those years), I haven’t seen any church/synagogue preach irresponsibility. Indeed, one of the heavy duty underlying themes is to step up to the plate and live up to God’s expectations for one’s own life.

    I have four daughters and no where in the time they were growing up did my husband and I think anyone besides ourselves were responsible for OUR children.

    Course, if one thinks “it’s the village’s responsibility” to care for ALL children, then some who embrace that attitude is not surprising.

    BTW, if someone is NOT on long term welfare, food stamps, etc, how is having 3 or 4 kids “not planning” or “taking advantage of the system?”

  25. December 8, 2005 at 8:21 pm

    The father is works as a elementary school teacher, my sister is a counciler and a pastor. They simply do not have the funds to support their children. They have made a LOT of sacrifices over the years to keep the kids fed with cloths on them. But when we (the larger family) see the kids wearing shoes that do not fit, jeans with holes in, etc. You feel the need to help out. I’m not saying that everyone has to live in a detached home with two cars.. living the ‘American Dream’. I’m actually not upset about my sister’s life choices. She does OK and her kids are loved and that is really all that matters.

    I am upset with the mindset that everyone deserves to have children. Why? I have a lot of co-workers that pressure me to have children and I feel like telling them that it is rude to push people into breeding. I have a lifestyle that I enjoy and I’m not ready to make the sacrifices that it would take to have children. And I’m not willing to ask my family to help. I’m not willing to ask the village to help. Should I?

  26. December 8, 2005 at 8:24 pm

    I’m not fond of asking the “village” to help either, but don’t you think they ought to? Regardless of whether or not the rest of the community has children?

  27. December 9, 2005 at 8:42 am

    Asking the village is OK.

    Thank you for the exchange, I have enjoyed it.. and it has caused me to think about what is really upsetting me: The American concept of Entitlement. We believe we deserve everything we have.. and after reading ‘The Long Emergancy’.. I have come to realize that the American Dream is going to end. I am having a hard time swallowing this and it is hickuping up in strange ways.

    The other issue it has brought up for me is the concept of ‘Devolution’. Which some people say will happen if the educated people do not procreate as fast as the people who are poor. I am happy that you have 4 children.. because you are one of the people out there that is fighting this trend.

    Thanks Again.


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