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.
That experience has made restoring abortion rights one of Madrid’s top concerns as he heads to the ballot box next week, and he’s not alone — Latinos rank abortion as their second-biggest issue, after rising prices, according to a Washington Post-Ipsos poll published last month.
For decades, Democrats and Republicans trying to attract Latino voters have been guided by widespread assumptions that the generally Democratic Latino electorate is conservative on the issue of abortion. But recent polls have debunked those long-held beliefs, finding most Latinos say abortion should be legal, often on par with White voters though trailing Black voters in support.
“I just don’t think we’re really as conservative as everybody thought,” Madrid said. “Almost everybody knows somebody who had to think about having an abortion.”
Experts credit the growing youth of the Latino population and the length of time they have been living in and adapting to U.S. culture. Those assumptions were also driven by long-held misconceptions of the role that religion, particularly Catholicism, plays in Latinos’ lives, they say.
“It’s very different than White evangelicals who want their religious beliefs coming out of the mouths of their governors. For Latino Catholics, they get their religious sermon on Sunday from the Father, and then they engage with politics separately,” said Matt Barreto, a Democratic pollster advising the White House and campaigns on reaching Latino voters.
Some Democrats have already begun seizing on it. In Texas, attorney general candidate Rochelle Garza and congressional candidate Michelle Vallejo hosted a town hall on abortion rights, pointedly making the case to Vallejo’s Hispanic-heavy district, which has traditionally been considered conservative on abortion. In Oregon, congressional candidate Andrea Salinas — who could be the state’s first Latina elected to Congress — rallied for abortion rights in Oregon’s capital city after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade. She speaks openly about her Mexican-immigrant father who is against abortion and about 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 I held her hand and gave her a shoulder to cry on,” she said in a Washington Post interview.
Long Beach, Calif., Mayor Robert Garcia (D), who is also running for Congress, said the issue appeals to young Latinos in his community.
“There’s a misconception that Latino communities are less engaged on this, and I think that’s incorrect. Particularly when you talk to young Latinas … they want access to reproductive health, they want access to abortion care — and their families, their moms and their dads, understand that,” said Garcia, who has partnered with Planned Parenthood on get-out-the-vote efforts and is speaking at an abortion rights rally this weekend.
Local and statewide Latino organizations — from North Carolina to New Mexico — are also putting the topic of abortion at the forefront to turn out the vote.
A majority — 68 percent — of Latino voters say abortion should be legal, according to the Post-Ipsos survey, with nearly the same percentage opposing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe. Two-thirds of Catholic Latino voters also opposed the ruling.
A Pew Research Center poll found that 60 percent of Latinos said abortion should be legal, along with 59 percent of White Americans, 68 percent of Black Americans and 74 percent of Asian Americans.
This support is partially driven by younger Latinos. In the Post-Ipsos poll, 84 percent of Latino registered voters ages 18-29 thought abortion should be legal compared with 62 percent for those 65 and older — still a majority, but a significantly smaller one.
Mark Hugo Lopez, director of race and ethnicity research at Pew, said as more Latinos assimilate into U.S. culture, the more their views on social issues like this one change. A 2002 Pew and Kaiser Family Foundation survey found a majority of Latinos saying abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. That flipped by 2022, when a majority of Latinos said abortion should be legal in a Pew poll. (The 2002 survey was conducted by telephone, while this year’s version was online.)
“There’s been a shift in their views that looks more like the U.S. public,” said Lopez. “What has been happening is the population has become more settled, so immigrants are living here longer and in some ways looking like other Americans.”
As of last year, 81 percent of Latinos living in the United States were citizens. The share of immigrant Latinos is declining, with most of the population’s growth driven by births.
There is also diversity within America’s Latino community. A September poll by Pew found Central Americans in the United States the most opposed to abortion among Latinos, with 42 percent saying abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Mexican Americans follow, with 56 percent saying abortion should be legal, then Puerto Ricans at 62 percent and Cuban Americans at 67 percent. South Americans in the United States were the most likely to say abortion should be legal, at 77 percent.
But part of the misconception, Latino organizers and consultants say, stems from insufficient nuance.
On a recent warm evening in McAllen, Tex., Krystal Valdez said she identified as “pro-life.” As the 20-year-old ate tamales with her boyfriend at an event for candidate Vallejo, she said if she were to get unintentionally 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 could not keep it.
But when pressed about whether other women should be allowed to make the decision to get an abortion, the subtlety in her position emerged.
“Even though I’m pro-life, women should have their own decision,” she said. “Other women, for themselves, need to have the option.”
Valdez’s distinction between her own choice and the choices of others is why the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice is careful about the language it uses when discussing abortion, said Lupe Rodriguez, executive director of the institute.
“Those buzzwords, pro-life, pro-choice, have never really represented the way most community members identified themselves,” Rodriguez said. “It does not resonate.”
The distinction bears out in the Post-Ipsos poll: 50 percent of Latino voters ages 18 to 29 said they personally thought having an abortion is morally acceptable, while 84 percent of them said abortion should be legal. Similarly, a quarter of Latinos age 65 and older said they personally thought having an abortion is morally acceptable, even though a solid majority of them thought abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
Voto Latino’s CEO, María Teresa Kumar, encountered similar findings 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 that she would not choose to have an abortion herself, but she would not impose that decision on others either.
It “really swayed” independents and men, Kumar said, evoking a more sympathetic response than an ad with a woman sharing that her abortion allowed her to attend college and pursue a career.
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 brought up in a religious household and still attends Mass every Sunday. He said religion plays a key role in his stance against abortion.
“I still agree with what I was told and what I was brought up with,” Garcia said. “I think it would be better off if the kids 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 have struggled to conceive, he said, and are looking into adoption themselves.
He does not think there should be exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother, and he does not have a preference on the number of weeks allowed for an abortion, either.
“I feel like once you place exceptions you could almost justify anything, and I don’t think it’s correct to have to abort the fetus. I think it’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 starkly 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 yeah, no.”
Alondra Trevizo-Escarcega, 23, sees the generational abortion divide in her own family; she has had difficult conversations on the subject with her dad, who immigrated to the United States from Mexico before she was born.
“I said ‘Put yourself in my position. Would you want me to have a child if I were sexually assaulted and I had to have my abuser’s child? Or, you know, if I just wasn’t ready to be a mother and giving them the love that they needed?’” the Liberal, Kan., resident recalled.
She said her dad was “a little shocked” by her candidness on the subject and did not say much.
“I don’t think he’s ever thought about it, other than abortion is bad,” she said. “I think it’s important for me as a younger-generation Latina to have these really hard conversations with older parents, aunts, other family members.”
Emily Guskin and Scott Clement contributed to this report.
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