Brooklyn Teens Face Reproductive Rights Challenges

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Teens living in Brooklyn are giving birth and terminating pregnancies at numbers higher than almost any borough in the city. According to the recently released NYC Summary of Vital Statistics 2009,  40 Brooklyn teens under age 15 gave birth, the most in the city. 672 teens ages 15-17 gave birth, second only to the Bronx. 1,808 teens, ages 18-19,  gave birth the highest teen birth numbers in the city. Brooklyn communities with the highest births to teens are Brownsville, East New York and Bushwick.
Brooklyn teens experienced the most spontaneous terminations (miscarriages) in the city. The highest numbers of induced terminations among teens took place in Brooklyn.
133 adolescents under age 15 terminated their pregnancies; there were 1,663 induced terminations among 15-17-year-olds and 2,586 among 18-19-year-olds. In NYC, the proportion of pregnancies ending in an induced termination is highest among younger women, peaking at about 28% at age 30. For women under the age of 25, more pregnancies end in induced termination than in a live birth or spontaneous termination. Of all induced terminations in NYC, the vast majority (88%) take place in the first 12 weeks.
According to the NYC Dept. of Health,  induced terminations of pregnancies among all age groups in NYC have gone down since 2000. Since that same year, the birth rate among teens has declined by 27%. Teen births accounted for 6.2% of all births in 2009.
Among all live births in NYC (126,774), more than 30,000 new mothers had less than a high school diploma; 59% of live births were covered by Medicaid. Brooklyn communities with the highest rate of pre-pregnancy obesity are Brownsville, East Flatbush and East New York.
Among live births in NYC, births to teen mothers ages 18-19 account for the largest number of infant deaths (330); an infant mortality rate of 5.4 per 1,000 live births. Infant deaths have have seen a steady decline since since the infant mortality rate was first estimated for NYC in 1898. Brownsville, East New York, and Bedford Stuyvesant experience the highest in fact mortality rate in the city in 2009. The NYC infant mortality rate is highest among Non-Hispanic Blacks at 9.5 deaths per 1,000 live births. The most common reasons for infant deaths is congenital malformations and short gestation/ low birth weight.
Almost 56,000 live births were to unmarried mothers in NYC, as were 83% of all induced terminations in the city. Although the NYC DOH is prohibited by law from recording the mother’s marital status on the records or report of birth, certificates without the father’s name and those with the father’s name that are accompanied by an acknowledgment of paternity are categorized as non-married; all others are categorized as married. Brownsville, Bushwick, and East New York had the highest percentage of births to unmarried women.
SisterSong NYC’s Jasmine Burnett is part of a national coalition of women of color concerned with reproductive rights. Burnett said the issue of reproductive rights, especially for teens, has many facets. “Do they have communication with parents, or are they learning about life and sex through imitation and incorrect messages?” Burnett has a message for parents: “You may think you are trying to keep your daughters innocent, but they may be getting exposed to images and messages that are completely different.”
Burnett said part of the problem is “how Black women are viewed in society around sex.” She did a search of popular lyrics containing certain words referring to Black females and “found no endearing lyrics about sex.”
She takes issue with some anti-abortion organizations, who Burnett says use tactics that are “exploitative,” including articles with titles like “A Black Woman’s Womb is a Garbage Receptacle” or “Our Fetus is a Slave.” For Burnett, messages like these are not helpful.
More discussions should take place surrounding “the environment in which women need to make decisions,” said Burnett. “Does the woman have a safe place to live? Does she have access to resources, such as reliable medical care?” Burnett said, “The only reason Black women’s abortions are counted is because we access government medical services. Other women with resources may have access to private doctors where procedures may or may not be counted.”
“Reproductive justice,” according to Burnett, is “a woman’s right to have a child or not to have a child, and to parent the children that she has without fear of violence from individuals or the government.”
The NYC Dept. of Health has created a Healthy Teens Initiative directed to adolescents as part of their public education outreach, available online and at their sites. SisterSong has online resources at www.reproductivejustice.org and conducts an annual conference on reproductive health and sexual rights. Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice, a founding member of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective, has culturally sensitive online resources on reproductive justice for Asian and Hispanic women.