During the first Democratic presidential debate in October 2015, Hillary Clinton proclaimed, "We’ve got to be committed to getting every child to live up to his or her God-given potential." Cynthia Meyer, who took up the post of deputy press secretary for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in early 2015, fired back with a tweet, "Would help if they had the chance to be born."
About a month later, in the next Democratic debate Nov. 14, 2015, the episode was repeated. Clinton echoed her earlier comment, again declaring, "Every single one of our children deserves the chance to live up to his or her God-given potential."
This time, Meyer responded by tweeting, "More black babies are aborted in NYC than born," followed by the hashtag #blacklivesmatter. NYC meaning the city of New York.
The pair of exchanges elicited a strong sense of deja vu, but Meyer’s second tweet raised a more specific question about abortion rates among black women in the Big Apple: Are there more abortions by black women in NYC than births?
To our inquiry, over email Meyer said her responses were an effort to highlight the value of human life and call attention to NYC’s "startling" numbers, which come from a 2013 report on pregnancy outcomes compiled by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Bureau of Vital Statistics. The numbers have been widely reported by conservative media outlets, including a National Review article that Meyer emailed to us.
"To be clear, that tweet came from my personal Twitter account and I was speaking as a private citizen," Meyer said in an email. "Happy to defend the stats, though."
Abortions by black women in NYC outpacing births?
Figuring out the answer to this question proved rather simple. The first place we went was that 2013 report, the most recent data available, which provides exhaustive breakdowns of birth statistics in New York City. The agency lists pregnancy outcomes by race and ethnicity, as well as by borough, type of birth (live birth, C-section, premature) and health of the mother.
According to the report, in 2013 black women accounted for 29,007 terminated pregnancies, representing almost 42 percent of all abortions in the city. That same year, black women in the city gave birth to 24,108 babies. With abortions surpassing live births by nearly 5,000, African American women in the city clearly terminated pregnancies more often than they carried babies to term. Black women terminated pregnancies at a rate of 67.3 per 1,000 women ages 15 to 49, a rate far higher than any other racial or ethnic group.
We checked: the statistics were similar the previous year, when African American women in the city had 24,758 births and underwent 31,328 abortions.
The numbers for black women in NYC starkly contrasted with women in other racial and ethnic categories. In 2013, births far surpassed abortions for white, Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander women. Hispanic women accounted for the second-most abortions in the city with 21,555, but they also had 35,581 live births. Asian women had both the fewest abortions and fewest births, while white women accounted for the most births overall and second-fewest abortions.
There was less discrepancy between the number of births and terminated pregnancies for black women statewide. In 2013, black women in New York state gave birth to 36,130 babies and underwent 34,960 abortions, according to the state’s health department. During the previous year, the numbers were almost dead even, with black women accounting for 36,905 births and 36,633 abortions across the state.
The numbers are far different for the four biggest cities in Texas. The Texas Department of State Health Services reports births by both county and city, but abortions are only reported by county. We examined the numbers in 2013 for Bexar, Dallas, Harris and Travis Counties, which contain the cities of San Antonio, Dallas, Houston and Austin, respectively. In all four counties, black women had more live births than abortions. The same was true for white women in those counties. For Harris County, which includes Houston, the largest city in Texas and fourth-largest city nationwide, black women had 12,569 live births and 5,515 abortions, while white women accounted for 16,247 births and 2,661 abortions. If you’d like to peruse the numbers for all four counties, we input the data into a Google spreadsheet for easier side-by-side comparison.
It’s important to note that abortion access across the state of Texas stands in stark contrast to NYC. Texas currently has 19 operating abortion clinics, but that number would drop to 10 if the U.S. Supreme Court allows the state's contested 2013 law to fully take effect. In contrast, New York state has 80 abortion clinics. Attitudes toward abortion also differ greatly between the two states.
Nationally in 2009, black women had abortions far more often than white and Hispanic women, according to data compiled in December 2013 by the National Center for Health Statistics.
For some perspective, an online search turned up a 2008 Guttmacher Policy Review article by Susan A. Cohen, a vice president for the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that promotes reproductive health and abortion rights. Cohen, saying the national abortion rate for black women is almost five times the rate for white women, suggested this is greatly explained by higher incidences of unintended pregnancy among African American residents. Higher rates, Cohen wrote, "reflect the particular difficulties that many women in minority communities face in accessing high-quality contraceptive services and in using their chosen method of birth control consistently and effectively over long periods of time. Moreover, these realities must be seen in a larger context in which significant racial and ethnic disparities persist for a wide range of health outcomes, from diabetes to heart disease to breast and cervical cancer to sexually transmitted infections (STI), including HIV."
In examining the socioeconomic factors behind this phenomena, Cohen disputed the idea that black women are recruited into having more abortions, a sentiment that has been shared by anti-abortion activists and conservative politicians. These issues were also extensively explored last September by Zoe Dutton in a piece for The Atlantic called "Abortion’s Racial Gap."
GOP leaders have used these statistics to argue against abortion, positing that it disproportionately affects black communities. In August, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson articulated this stance in relation to Planned Parenthood, claiming during an appearance on Fox News that the organization has contributed to abortion being "the number one cause of death for black people." The leading causes of death for black Americans are actually heart disease, cancer and stroke, according to the CDC, but Carson’s rhetoric speaks to the GOP’s broader stance against abortion.
The debate over abortion has taken on more fervor in recent years as many states have introduced increased abortion restrictions. Texas has led in this area, in 2013 enacting a law requiring abortion clinics to adhere to the standards of surgical centers and employ doctors with admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic. In November 2015, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case challenging the constitutionality of those two provisions as undue burdens on women seeking abortions.
A Hillary Clinton declaration that every child should be allowed to live up to his potential prompted a tweet from a spokeswoman for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that "More black babies are aborted in NYC than born." The tweet from Deputy Press Secretary Cynthia Meyer echoes what has become a talking point among anti-abortion activists, that abortion disproportionately affects the nation’s African American population.
Nationally, African American women had a higher rate of abortion than whites, Hispanics or Asians, according to 2013 figures. Even so, black women gave birth more than they terminated pregnancies that year.
The same was not true for New York City, where more abortions were recorded for black woman than live births in both 2012 and 2013, the most recent available data.
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CLARIFICATION, 4:20 p.m., Dec. 1, 2015: We amended this fact check to clarify that the described 2013 abortion rate for black women related to women aged 15 to 49. This change did not affect our rating.