¿Latinas: Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, Neither?

40 years ago, the Supreme Court handed down Roe v. Wade, a decision that legalized abortion. The law hinges on privacy--bringing a baby into this world is a decision between a mother and her doctor. No more "back alley" procedures performed by people who called themselves doctors. Coat hangers--a symbol of one of the crudest methods used to abort--were returned to closets--where they belong. roe_v_wade-TheWiseLatinaClub

This was the sole topic of discussion on NPR's Tell Me More with Michel Martin "Beauty Shop" roundtable of female journalists and academics which I moderate. Michel asked me if I remember when the decision came down. I joked, of course not. I wasn't even a thought in my Papis' minds.

Click below to hear the January 23, 2013 "Beauty Shop" roundtable with Michel, and U.S. News' columnist Mary Kate Carey and Emory University political science professor Andra Gillespie where we discuss the Roe v. Wade 40th anniversary.

In fact I was around, but have zero recollection because I was barely a tot. What I do remember is growing up in a Catholic familia where these things weren't talked about. My 'rents didn't preach the evils of sex before marriage or that abortion is a sin.

But in shhh shhh shhh tones were murmurs of chicas de sociedad--high school or college-aged young women who disappeared and ¡poof! came back six months later.

Forget gory pictures of mangled fetuses. I feared the qué dirán--¿what will they say?--and the stain it would bring Mami who would be forever judged a bad mother.

So how do Latinas see abortion, beyond disappearances-sold-as-a-trip-to-Europe-but-really-a-retreat-to-a-convent? As with other women of color who didn't figure into early feminism characterized as white and upperclass, Latinas' views on abortion was largely absent from the national debate until now.

New findings are intriguing, not because they reveal according to the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health:

  • 90% of polled married Catholic Latinos use birth control or
  • 74% of surveyed Latino registered voters agree with the statement that a woman has the right ot make a personal decision about abortion

Rather, in the battle over public opinion, the pro-reproductive rights groups are framing the issue for Hispanics--a growing segment of the electorate that has historically been characterized as socially conservative--around:

  • Access because of the economic and educational obstacles
  • Compassion and support of people we love such as sisters, cousins, co-workers, friends, and neighbors who find themselves in this situation.

I always scrutinize the organization commissioning a survey, methodology, sampling, and how questions are asked for an agenda. Still, this framing is significant because of how deeply access, compassion, and support resonate with Latinas for whom the labels of "pro-life" and "pro-choice" do not capture the human dimension, the emotional subtleties of a predicament, or a hot button issue. Add to this others such as gay marriage and immigration.

Expect to see more battles for the hearts and minds of Latinos who, as they politically mature, are poised to become the ultimate swing voter.

Latinos are typically characterized as more socially conservative. Are they?