Despite the pervasive stereotype that most Latinos oppose abortion rights for religious reasons, new polling in Texas shows that Latino voters in the state overwhelming support a woman's right to have an abortion without interference from politicians. But the terms "pro-choice" and "pro-life" aren't resonating with them at all.
The survey, conducted by the nonpartisan research firm PerryUndem Research and Communication for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, found that Latinos support legal abortion when the issue is presented to them using different terms, such as "reproductive justice," "social justice" and "human rights."
"The language used to measure and categorize support for abortion rights falls short in resonating with our communities," said Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, executive director of the NLIRH. "They literally do not translate into Spanish."
"'Reproductive justice' is inclusive and addresses the multitude of issues our community faces," she added.
The poll found that Latino voters in Texas hold very similar views to Latino voters nationwide on abortion rights and the health insurance coverage of abortion and birth control. Exit polls in the 2012 elections showed that 66 percent of Latino voters believed abortion should be legal, while only 28 percent disagreed. In Texas, 6 out of 10 Latino voters said even if a church leader says abortion is wrong, it should be legal, and 78 percent said they agree that women should be able to make their own decisions about abortion.
More than three-fourths of respondents said birth control should be covered no matter where a person works, and 57 percent said women should have abortion coverage, even under a government-funded health insurance plan. Only about half of Latino voters in Texas had heard of the nationwide trend of laws being passed that chip away at abortion rights, but after hearing about the laws and their consequences, more than half of the respondents said the laws are moving in the wrong direction.
"We believe this finding speaks to the as-yet-unrealized potential of Latino activism in the state," said Ana Rodriguez DeFrates, Texas state policy and advocacy director at the NLIRH. "It's precisely that potential we're tapping into."
DeFrates said the research shows that if abortion rights activists can educate Latino voters in the state about abortion laws that affect them, such as the new Texas law that has shut down dozens of abortion clinics in Texas, it will motivate them to organize around the issue.
The issue is particularly meaningful for women around the Rio Grande Valley, who now have to drive hundreds of miles to reach the nearest abortion clinic. Many of them are resorting to unsafe methods of ending their pregnancies because they don't have the money or transportation to reach a clinic. They also lack access to good health care in general.
"These women end up living with chronic pain, untreated illnesses, fear for their lives and the wellbeing of their children and families," DeFrates said. "Communities cannot thrive unless all aspects of their lived experiences are addressed."
The hope, DeFrates said, is that Latinos will start to see reproductive rights as a human right and really fight for it.
"The need could scarcely be greater," she said.