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Archbishop Timothy Dolan (Handout)

A chilling statistic

Abortion | Compared to the rest of the country, a pregnancy in New York City is twice as likely to end in abortion

NEW YORK-In New York City, pro-life advocates are uniting to fight a chilling statistic: 41 percent of pregnancies here end in abortion, a rate twice the national average. Clergy in the city are mobilizing to address the problem and to defend local crisis pregnancy centers from a bill that would require them to advertise that they don't provide abortion or contraceptives.

At a Jan. 6 press conference, Roman Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan called the statistic "downright chilling" and invited his fellow New Yorkers to "come together to make abortion rare." Rabbi Chaim David Zwiebel of Agudath Israel of America joined him, saying, "Statistics can be numbing, yet the magnitude of the human tragedy these numbers reveal is so great that they cry out for urgent attention." Leslie Diaz, spokesperson for Democrats for Life, noted that the abortion rate is especially high in the minority community. It is even higher (48 percent) in the Bronx and among Hispanics and African-Americans.

The Chiaroscuro Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helped organize the press conference, has pledged $1 million toward lowering the city's abortion rate. Greg Pfundstein, the foundation's executive director, said his organization hopes to create greater collaboration between New York City's crisis pregnancy centers. The foundation is planning to work with the centers to strengthen their referral network so that pregnant women have access to any support they might need to help them continue their pregnancies. Pfundstein said that Chiaroscuro will invest in abstinence education programs for the first time but added that it is first doing careful research to find out what's most effective. It will also fund advertising for the crisis pregnancy centers so that women are aware of their services.

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That advertising effort will encounter obstacles if a restrictive bill passes the New York City Council. The proposed law would require crisis pregnancy centers to post disclaimers in their offices and on their websites and advertisements, informing women that they do not offer or provide referrals for Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives and abortions. Pro-life centers contend that the bill targets them as dishonest and violates their right to free speech. At a Nov. 16 hearing, Susanne Metaxas, president of Midtown Pregnancy Support Center, said, "Since we already take every effort to be as transparent as possible, we are simply opposed to being singled out to post a sign highlighting services that we don't provide."

The bill remains in the council's Committee on Women's Issues for now. Ed Mechmann, assistant director of Family Life/Respect Life at the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, said that he still fully expects the council to take action on the bill in the next couple of months. There are 51 council members but only six Republicans who might be allies to the bill's opponents. But, according to Mechmann, the grassroots efforts of pro-lifers can affect the bill's ultimate wording. As it is currently worded, the bill is stricter than similar legislation passed in Baltimore and in Austin, Texas. Other cities do not require crisis pregnancy centers to include the disclaimer in their advertising, and the New York City bill levies harsher penalties. For instance, a person who removes or destroys one of the disclaimer signs would face up to 15 days in jail or a $2,500 fine.

Mechmann said that the archdiocese is hoping media attention will prompt more evangelical, Hispanic, African-American, and Pentecostal clergy to get involved. These minority and Protestant clergy are just as important and influential as the Catholic clergy, said Mechmann, adding that legislators see them as community leaders who represent a large body of concerned, active citizens.

Michel Faulkner, the African-American pastor of New Horizons Church in Harlem, was one minority minister who stood with the others at the Jan. 6 press conference. Faulkner noted that 60 percent of African-American pregnancies end in abortion-"the leading cause of death among African-Americans."

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