Do 41% of all New York City pregnancies end in abortions?

Drudge has this headlined, and Twitter is buzzing over the appalling statistic reported by ABC and CBS stations in New York City over the abortion rate in 2009, as determined by the Big Apple’s Health Department.  For the year, New York City reported 214,454 pregnancy outcomes, of which 126.774 were live births and just 407 were spontaneous terminations — miscarriages.  However, 87,273 pregnancy outcomes were abortions (induced terminations), which constituted 41% of all pregnancy outcomes:

New and eye-opening statistics about the rate of abortions in New York City have been released by the Health Department.

It raises questions about the effectiveness of current birth control education.

41% of all New York City pregnancies end in abortion.

The breakdown by ethnicity is, perhaps, even more startling.  Almost 60% of all pregnancy outcomes in NYC for African-American mothers were abortions; among Hispanics, 41.3%.  Asians and whites had relatively low percentages of abortion outcomes (22.7% and 20.4%, respectively).  ABC points out that the overall number is actually an improvement over 1998, when the citywide rate for abortion outcomes was 46%.

But some care should be taken with these numbers. It’s not a measure of pregnancies, but of pregnancy outcomes.  The data does not show the residential status of the mothers at the time of the outcomes, but only that the outcomes took place in New York City.  It is entirely possible that significant numbers of women seeking abortions come to New York City to get them from outside of the city; in fact, it’s probably more likely than not, considering the concentration of abortion services in major metropolitan areas.  Women seeking abortions may go outside their local area even if abortion services are readily available anyway in order to maximize their anonymity through the process.  That trend would seriously skew an “abortion rate” statistic.

Another possibility, although less likely, would be mothers seeking to have their births outside the city.  Those decisions might come earlier in pregnancy for mothers who prefer a less urban life for raising a family.  Even a small trend in that direction would tend to inflate the “abortion rate” in the city, although probably not much.

The headline that 41% of all New York City pregnancies end in abortions is at best iffy, if not inaccurate, as the statistic measures outcomes and do not control for residence.  One fact is certain: 87,000 abortions in New York City in one year is appalling, no matter how it appears in the statistics.

Addendum: As long as we’re talking about accuracy in terms, though, we should note that the Planned Parenthood spokesperson should try for some improvement, too.  She talks about comprehensive sex education as the key to reducing abortions, including abstinence education, but then asserts that “abstinence by itself is proven to be ineffective.”  Actually, abstinence by itself is the only completely effective way to avoid pregnancy.  She means abstinence education, but since we’ve been delivering comprehensive sex education for decades while abortion rates and unmarried pregnancies have skyrocketed, the same can be said for comprehensive sex education as well.