Abortion rights a key issue for Latino voters, polls show

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Eight years ago, St. Louis resident Carlos Madrid was approached by a close family member with a plea: she needed help paying for an abortion.

“She wasn’t in a solid relationship or in a super stable living situation, and she just wasn’t really ready to have a kid yet,” said Madrid, 42, who is Mexican. “I’m glad she was able to have that option, otherwise I don’t know what she would do – she would be on all kinds of welfare.”

That experience has made restoring abortion rights one of Madrid’s top concerns as he heads to the polls next week, and he’s not alone – Latinos rank abortion as their second biggest problem, after rising prices, according to a Post-Ipsos poll published last month.

For decades, Democrats and Republicans trying to appeal to Latino voters have been guided by widespread assumptions that the generally Democratic Latino electorate is conservative on the issue of abortion. But recent polls debunked these long-held beliefs, finding that most Latinos say abortion should be legal, often on par with White voters although behind black voters in support.

“I just don’t think we’re really as conservative as everyone thought,” Madrid said. “Almost everyone knows someone who must have thought about having an abortion.”

Experts credit the growing youthfulness of the Latin American population and the length of time they have lived and adapted to American culture. These assumptions were also driven by long-standing misconceptions about the role that religion, especially Catholicism, plays in the lives of Latinos, they say.

“It’s very different from white evangelicals who want their religious beliefs out of the mouths of their governors. For Latino Catholics, they get their Sunday religious sermon from the Father and then they separately engage in politics,” said Matt Barreto, a Democratic pollster advising the White House and campaigning to reach Latino voters.

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Some Democrats have already begun to seize it. In Texas, attorney general candidate Rochelle Garza and congressional candidate Michelle Vallejo held a town hall on abortion rights, ostensibly arguing the case of the densely Hispanic district of Vallejo, traditionally seen as conservative on abortion rights. ‘abortion. In Oregon, congressional candidate Andrea Salinas – who could be the state’s first Latina elected to Congress – rallied for abortion rights in the Oregon capital after the cancellation of the Supreme Court. Roe vs. Wade. She talks openly about her Mexican immigrant father being against abortion and taking her teenage sister to a clinic to get one.

“There was no one in my family to take her to the clinic when she decided to have an abortion, so I took her to the clinic and held her hand and gave her a shoulder to hold onto. cry,” she said in a Washington Post. interview.

Long Beach, Calif., Mayor Robert Garcia (D), also a candidate for Congress, said the issue is of interest to young Latinos in his community.

“There’s a misconception that Latino communities are less engaged in this area, and I think that’s not true. Especially when you talk to young Latinas…they want access to reproductive health, they want access to abortion care — and their families, their moms and dads, understand that,” Garcia said, who has partnered with Planned Parenthood to get out-the-vote efforts and speaks at an abortion rights rally this weekend.

Local and national Latin American organizations – from North Carolina at New Mexico – also put the topic of abortion front and center to get the vote.

A majority – 68% – of Latino voters say abortion should be legal, according to a Washington Post-Ipsos Surveywith nearly the same percentage of opponents of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe vs. Wade. Two-thirds of Latino Catholic voters also opposed the decision.

A bench survey found that 60% of Latinos said abortion should be legal, along with 59% of White Americans, 68% of Black Americans, and 74% of Asian Americans.

This support is driven in part by young Latinos. In the Post-Ipsos poll, 84% of registered Latino voters aged 18 to 29 thought abortion should be legal, compared to 62% of those 65 and older – still a majority, but much smaller.

Mark Hugo Lopez, director of race and ethnicity research at Pew, said the more Latinos assimilate into American culture, the more their perspective on social issues like this changes. A 2002 Pew and Kaiser Family Foundation Poll found a majority of Latinos saying abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. That reversed in 2022, when a majority of Latinos said abortion should be legal in a bench survey. (The 2002 survey was conducted by telephone, while this year’s version was online.)

“There’s been a shift in their perspective that’s more like the American public,” Lopez said. “What’s happened is that the population has become more settled, so immigrants are living here longer and are in some ways similar to other Americans.”

As of last year, 81% of Latinos living in the United States were citizens. The share of immigrant Latinos is declining, with most of the population growth driven by births.

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There is also diversity within the Latin American community. A September poll by Pew found Central Americans in the United States the most opposed to abortion among Latinos, with 42% saying abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Mexican Americans follow, with 56% saying abortion should be legal, followed by Puerto Ricans at 62% and Cuban Americans at 67%. South Americans in the United States were the most likely to say abortion should be legal, at 77%.

But part of the misconception, Latino organizers and consultants say, stems from insufficient nuance.

On a recent hot night in McAllen, Texas, Krystal Valdez said she identified as “pro-life.” As the 20-year-old ate tamales with her boyfriend at an event for contestant Vallejo, she said if she accidentally got pregnant she would still have the child. She was adopted as a baby and she said she might consider putting the baby up for adoption if she really couldn’t keep him.

But when asked if other women should be allowed to make the decision to have an abortion, the subtlety in his position emerged.

“Even though I’m pro-life, women should have their own decision,” she said. “Other women, for themselves, must have a choice.”

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Valdez’s distinction between his own choice and the choices of others is why the Latina National Institute for Reproductive Justice is careful about the language he uses when talking about abortion, said Lupe Rodriguez, executive director. of the institute.

“Those buzzwords, pro-life, pro-choice, never really represented how most people in the community identified with themselves,” Rodriguez said. “It doesn’t resonate.”

The distinction is confirmed by the Post-Ipsos poll: 50% of Latino voters aged 18-29 said they personally thought abortion was morally acceptable, while 84% said the abortion should be legal. Similarly, a quarter of Latinos aged 65 and older said they personally believe abortion is morally acceptable, even though a solid majority believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

María Teresa Kumar, CEO of Voto Latino encountered similar results after the group tested different abortion rights ads this summer. The ad that resonated the most with the Latinos they sampled, which included moderate and swing voters, was one in which a minister’s daughter said she would not choose to have an abortion herself , but that it would not impose this decision on others either.

It “really influenced” independents and men, Kumar said, evoking a more sympathetic response than an announcement with a woman sharing that her abortion allowed her to go to college and pursue a career.

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But there are Latinos who remain against abortion rights.

Manuel Garcia, 36, a software engineer in Long Beach, Calif., is a registered Republican who was raised in a religious home and still attends mass every Sunday. He said that religion plays a key role in her stance against abortion.

“I always agree with what I was told and raised with,” Garcia said. “I think it would be better if the children were born, even if they weren’t wanted, maybe given up for adoption. I think that would be a better route than just aborting them.

Garcia and his wife struggled to conceive, he said, and are considering adoption themselves.

He doesn’t think there should be any exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother, nor does he have a preference on how many weeks an abortion is allowed.

“I feel like once you place exceptions you can almost justify anything, and I don’t think it’s okay to have to abort the fetus. I think he’s a living person,” he said.

But for many Latinos, the connection between Catholicism and abortion is not a straight line. Roxanne Benitez, 47, considers herself Catholic, but has come to a radically different conclusion on abortion.

“If it was according to the Bible, I mean – I have tattoos, I have piercings, my children have tattoos and piercings, none of that is allowed either,” said the Houston resident, who is a fourth-generation Texan. “And I believe in birth control. So yes, no.

Alondra Trevizo-Escarcega, 23, sees the generational abortion divide in her own family; she had difficult conversations on the subject with her father, who immigrated from Mexico to the United States before she was born.

“I said, ‘Put yourself in my shoes. Would you want me to have a child if I was sexually assaulted and had to have my abuser’s child? Or, you know, if I wasn’t not ready to be a mother and give them the love they needed? recalls the liberal Kansas resident.

She said her dad was “a bit shocked” by her outspokenness on the subject and said little.

“I don’t think he ever thought about it, other than the fact that abortion is bad,” she said. “I think it’s important for me, as a younger generation Latina, to have these really tough conversations with older parents, aunts, other family members.”

Emily Guskin and Scott Clement contributed to this report.

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