Recently, a New York Times/Texas Tribune article detailed the Republican strategy of using abortion as a flash point to spur support among Latino/as. As the executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, an organization deeply familiar with the attitudes of Latino/as when it comes to abortion, I’m profoundly skeptical this approach will generate any additional votes.
In the piece, Enrique Marquez, a Republican political consultant, says that if Texas Republicans concentrate on their anti-abortion views and religious beliefs, they can sway Latino/a voters. Yet, the assumptions underlying this seriously misguided viewpoint simply don’t represent the views of Latino/as when it comes to reproductive health.
Polling from my own organization shows that most Latino/a voters seem willing to disagree with church leaders on the legality of abortion. In fact, nearly seven in ten agree with the statement “Even though church leaders take a position against abortion, when it comes to the law, I believe it should remain legal.” Furthermore, polling by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) shows that a strong majority of Latino/as identify as both pro-choice and “pro-life.”
This is perhaps the biggest problem with the political assumption that waving the anti-abortion flag will cause Latino/as to line up behind a particular candidate. An outdated “pro-choice” and “pro-life” approach is simply far too limited to convey the real opinions of our community.
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We know from our polling, as well as from our regular interactions with Latino/as in Texas, Florida, New Mexico, New York, and many other states across the nation that these labels don’t work for us. Abortion is a deeply personal topic and, fundamentally, Latino/as have compassionate views on abortion.
Rather than getting caught up in antiquated definitions, Latino/a voters prefer to focus on supporting our loved ones. In fact, our polling shows that nearly three out of four Latino/a registered voters agree that a woman has the right to make her own personal, private decisions about abortion without politicians interfering. Even more—eight out of ten—would support a close friend or family member who had an abortion.
Stereotypes about conservative Latino/as might persist, but that doesn’t make them true.
When I talk with Latinas in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, they don’t talk about being “pro-life” or “pro-choice.” As a new joint report, launched this week with the Center for Reproductive Rights, shows, they’re much more concerned about whether they’ll be able to afford their yearly mammogram or whether their local clinic will be able to stay open given the recent ruling in Texas. They worry about whether their daughters can afford contraception and how they’ll manage to travel the 30-plus miles to the nearest clinic to have the pain in their uterus examined. They worry about how an unplanned pregnancy would affect their families, not which box to check.
Politicians who believe that staking out anti-abortion policies will generate support among Latino/as—particularly as they ignore or are outright hostile on comprehensive immigration reform, support for education and the Affordable Care Act, and other policies that resonate with Latino/as—unquestionably fail to understand the complexities of our community. And they will fail to win our votes.
If Texas politicians truly want to create support among Latino/as, they should stop making it more difficult for Latinas to get the reproductive health care they’re demanding and desperately need. Advocate for policies that support Latina decision-making and help us care for ourselves and our families, and we will support you. That’s the winning strategy for Texas, and beyond—not old-fashioned, divisive politics.