When I was a sophomore in college, I helped try to start a campus pro-choice organization, which wouldn't have been a big deal if the campus in question weren't steeped in Catholic tradition. Unable to gain traction on school grounds, we looked beyond the gates, and three of us became regular volunteer escorts at a women's clinic down around 149th Street in the Bronx. Every Saturday morning, we'd don orange vests and head to nearby street corners to watch for clients and offer them an escort if our counterparts, the anti-abortion rights protesters, seemed to distress them.
For the most part, our interactions with our opposite numbers were civil and their approach to the clients was more low-key than the kind of thing described this morning in the Times. There weren't many clients for them to pester or us to escort so we spent most of the time talking to one another; I had a number of thoughtful debates about theology with a monk who was stationed with me on Melrose Avenue. One of the antis did tell women that the clinic was harvesting aborted fetuses to create some kind of “superman,” but she was at least polite about proclaiming it. While this all occurred soon after the clinic killings in Pensacola and Brooklyn, there was no sense of danger. The only element of threat was a passerby who one morning yelled across the street at me, “Hey, how many n—–s have you killed today?”
Much has changed about abortion politics since 1996, but the changes in the reality of abortion in New York City are even more dramatic, though often overlooked. Since those days when I trotted out sophomore-level theology before 8 a.m., the number of abortions in New York City has declined 35 percent while the number of births has fallen only 9 percent. Even in the past decade, the number has decreased by 20,000.
Whether that fall is the result of altered prospects facing women who are considering their options, the success of the clinic protesters, changing attitudes about abortion or lack of access to the means to have one (according to the Guttmacher Institute, the number of abortion providers in New York State fell 10 percent from 2008 to 2011) is unclear.