Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Strange Silence

By MICHAEL BENJAMIN
January 18, 2011


You have to wonder some times about what provokes citywide outrage -- and what doesn't.

Last week, Schools Chancellor Cathie Black's offhand joke about how birth control would resolve school overcrowding elicited a cascade of angry responses flooding news outlets, blogs and Twitter. Before the sun was high in the sky, the usual suspects stood in front of the microphones and sat in front of their keyboards denouncing Black (who has now apologized).

Earlier in the month, news of some truly horrifying health statistics vanished almost without a peep.

First, Archbishop Timothy Dolan and several clergy leaders held a news conference to decry the high abortion rate in New York City. The most recent data are for 2009 -- when 41 percent of pregnancies ended in abortion. The Bronx had the highest rate, followed by Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and Staten Island.

Almost a week later, the city Health Department reported that The Bronx ranked the worst among the boroughs on almost every major barometer of health, from infant deaths to cancer to HIV/AIDS. Cancer, chronic-obstructive-pulmonary disease, diabetes and abortion are far too common in The Bronx and are the leading cause of death in poor black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

None of the usual suspects expressed outrage, blasted Mayor Bloomberg or announced City Council hearings over these dismal statistics.

The expression of outrage over the city's high abortion rate was left to Dolan and maverick Rev. Michael Faulkner, who said he felt heartsick that abortion is "the leading cause of death among African-Americans" in the city.

It is indeed heartbreaking that 60 percent of all unborn African-American babies are aborted.

Just think about it: Black women in our city have three abortions for every two live births. The Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Nation are giving "fist bumps" all around.

The local chapters of the National Organization for Women and Planned Parenthood reflexively defend this ugly disparity. Planned Parenthood says that if Dolan, Faulkner and their allies are really committed to lowering the city's abortion rate, they should support efforts to reduce unintended pregnancies, like sex education and birth control.

Yet the statistics should be sobering. Dolan says, "We've been hearing for many years from pro-choice supporters that abortion should be 'safe, legal and rare.' Well, if that's the goal, we've clearly, abysmally failed -- especially here in New York City."

Sorry: The NOW/Planned Parenthood-endorsed regime of "comprehensive" sex education, condoms and birth control has been in place for decades in New York City -- yet the abortion rate stands at 48 percent in The Bronx. The city is in the pregnancy-prevention business as well, having distributed 40 million free condoms in 2009.

None of this seems to be having the intended effect. It may be time for a different approach.

The 87,000 abortions performed in 2009 have caused me to question my pro-choice votes in the state Assembly in support of Medicaid-funded abortions. Was I an enabler of abortion as a family-planning tool?

I could at least console myself with my work to restore funding for the Maternity and Early Childhood Foundation -- a nonprofit that provides critical services to young, low-income pregnant women to help them to bear their children and raise them with dignity.

There's hope for common ground here: Traci Perry of Planned Parenthood also cites the need to "really begin to provide the health-care services and the information that these communities need to deal with unintended pregnancies."

I'm joining with the Chiaroscuro Foundation in working with Bronx clergy to design an outreach program for young women and men to combat unintended pregnancies and abortions in The Bronx. It's time to put our collective outrage into constructive action.

Shh! Did you hear that? That was the cry of a black baby being born.