IMMIGRATION

Many Latinos don't think abortion should be illegal, despite personal views

Daniel Gonzalez
Arizona Republic

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People often assume that Ericka Solis opposes abortion because she is a Latina and devout Catholic.

It's a common perception of Latinos, who are heavily Catholic.

But that view is not an accurate picture of the nuanced views toward abortion and abortion rights among many Latinos, including Solis, new polling shows.

While many Latinos are Catholic and may personally oppose abortion because of their religious views, a large majority of Latino eligible voters don't believe abortion should be illegal, or that a women's right to choose should be taken away, according to an August poll commissioned by UnidosUS, a national Latino civil rights organization.

It is a key distinction as some states ban or restrict abortion rights in the wake of the Supreme Court's June decision overturning Roe v Wade, analysts and advocates say.

"That's what's really important where public policy-making is concerned," said Clarissa Martinez de Castro, vice president of UnidosUS's Latino Vote Initiative.

Abortion has jumped up to a top three issue of concern for growing numbers of Latinos in the wake of the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision in June. That decision ended five decades of precedent guaranteeing abortion rights. The ruling also has resulted in new abortion bans or greater abortion restrictions in numerous states, among them, Arizona, where a judge ruled Sept. 23 that a near total ban on abortion dating to 1864, before Arizona was a state, could take effect.

Abortion rights advocates say abortion bans and stricter restrictions on abortions will disproportionately affect Latina women and other women of color.

More:Here's what you need to know about Arizona's abortion law

About 50% of Latinos in the U.S. are Catholic, the highest percent of any race or ethnic group in the U.S. Three out of four Latinos identify as Christian, including those who are Catholics, according to the Public Religion Research Institute. 

"The Catholic Church teaches that life begins at conception," said Diana Richardson Vela, a volunteer advocate for the Phoenix Diocese Office of Marriage and Respect Life. More than half of the 1.2 million Catholics in the Phoenix diocese are Latinos. 

She said she has not seen an increase in Latino Catholics who support abortion rights despite their personal beliefs against abortion.

"I don't see that in my circles," said Richardson Vela, who hosts a Catholic radio show in Phoenix. 

If anything, she said, she has seen an increase in younger Latino Catholics who don't want abortion to be legal and who cheered the Supreme Court's decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

Republican U.S. Rep. Mayra Flores of Texas is inspiring a younger generation of Latino Catholics to speak out against abortion and in favor of adoption, she said. Flores, who was born in Mexico, won a special election in June to represent the Rio Grande Valley of Texas in Congress.

"She said I am, pro-God, pro-life, pro-family, pro-American. I am the  American Dream,'" Richardson Vela said. "So I think her example of courageousness has helped a lot within the young Latinos."

Meanwhile, Solis, a 39-year-old accountant from Avondale, Arizona, said she has conflicting views about abortion.

She grew up steeped in the Catholic faith in the Mexican state of Sonora, where she attended Mass regularly and went to Catholic schools. She lived at home until she got married when she was 30. Now a U.S. citizen, Solis has three children, two of whom attend Catholic schools.

Solis said Catholic teachings taught her, "First, you have to have faith. Second, life is created by God. And third, you can't go against God's will."

As a devout Catholic, Solis said she has strong personal views against abortion. 

"We are against abortion when they are teenagers and they get with a boyfriend and get pregnant. And it's not OK if you are in a good marriage and you want to proceed with an abortion. That's not OK with us," Solis said. "And if you are willing to have sex with others and you are not protecting and you get pregnant, that's not OK with us."

In cases of unintended pregnancies, she would prefer to see women seek adoptions rather than abortions.

Solis believes that despite her religious views against abortion, the right to have a legal abortion should not be taken away.

She said there are circumstances when she believes abortion is justifiable, such as in instances of rape, or incest or when the mother's life is in danger.

She recalled the complications she experienced during her first pregnancy when her doctor told her and her husband that they might have to choose between an abortion and her own life.

She said growing up in Mexico, she experienced what it was like to live in a country where abortion was a crime. It was not uncommon for girls as young as 10 to get pregnant from older boys. She knew classmates who became mothers in elementary school and heard about young girls who got illegal abortions.

In 2021, the Supreme Court of Mexico decriminalized abortion and several states have lifted restrictions on abortion.

"If I'm speaking as a Catholic, then I would say yes, abortion should be illegal," Solis said. "But if I am logical, then I say, 'No abortion should not be illegal,' because she should have the right to choose about her body, even though that is against my faith."

Evelyn Vega shares similar views.

As a lifelong Catholic, Vega, a 45-year-old finance and accounting professional who lives outside Sacrament, California  said she was "raised thinking abortion is wrong and immoral." 

But the church taught her "compassion, love and acceptance," which she said also shaped her views about abortion.

She believes it should be up to a woman to decide whether to have an abortion, even though she personally opposes it. She worries abortion bans in some states will result in a rise in illegal abortions.

"I don't believe in abortion. Morally, I wouldn't do it," Vega said.

"But I also don't feel we should take those rights from people because it will put in danger these women if abortion is not legal and women seek an illegal abortion instead," Vega said.

When does life begin? Abortion views differ among religions. Here's what they say

Vega and Solis hardly are alone in their views on abortion rights.

"I think many in our community understand and empathize with people's decisions about their reproductive health care and see abortion as part of health care," said Candace Gibson, director of government relations at National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, a group that advocates for reproductive rights including abortion.

A survey conducted by the group in 2018 found that nine in 10 Latino respondents would support a loved one who needed to have an abortion, Gibson said.

Abortion bans disproportionately harm communities of color, including Hispanics, because they tend to have higher rates of poverty, making it more difficult to travel to other states that allow abortions, Gibson said. 

"Many Latinas and other people of color work multiple jobs or in jobs that provide no sick days or insurance coverage and live in underserved communities," Gibson said. "So individuals and many in our communities just don't have the time or money to travel to a different state to access abortion care."

The UnidosUS poll, however, found that 76% of Latino voters agreed, including 59% who strongly agreed, that no matter their personal beliefs about abortion, it's wrong to make abortion illegal and take that choice away from everyone else.

"Many Latinos might personally be uncomfortable with abortion, would not have chosen to have one, would prefer that their friends and family not choose to have one, but that is distinct from wanting the law to criminalize the behavior," said Gary Segura, a political scientist and pollster. His Los Angeles-based firm, BSP research, conducted the survey of 2,750 Latino voters and eligible voters for UnidosUS.

Among Latino Catholics nationally, 76% agreed, 58% of them strongly, and among Latinos who identified as Christian, 68% agreed, 50% strongly, the poll found.

In addition, 19% of Latino voters said abortion is one of the most important issues elected officials should address. In previous polls, never did more than 2.5 to 3% of Latinos list abortion as a top issue, Segura said. In Arizona, 24% of Latino voters listed abortion as a top concern, the poll found.

"That is just unprecedented in my polling," Segura said. "This just wasn't what Latinos were concerned about" in the past.

Segura attributed the sharp jump in the percentage of Latinos concerned about abortion to the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision.

Of those who said abortion was a top issue, 69% said they worried banning abortion would put women's lives at risk.

"The take that I draw from that is that the salience of the issue has just skyrocketed, not just in recent years, but in the wake of Dobbs," Segura said.

On the other side, 16% of Latino voters said abortion should be illegal in all states and about 11% said they wanted elected officials in their state to implement or enforce a ban on abortion, the poll found.

The poll contradicts conventional wisdom that Latinos want abortion to be illegal because they are Catholic.

Data has shown for years that Latinos in the U.S. are becoming increasingly in favor of abortion rights, Segura said, but even he was surprised by the latest poll's results.

"I didn't expect it to be this high. It's overwhelming," Segura said.

A separate Pew Research Center poll found that abortion has risen in importance as an election issue more than any other issue among Latino registered voters. The poll found that in August 59% of Latinos nationally considered abortion very important, compared to 42% in March. The increase in importance of abortion as an election year issue among Latinos reflects an increase among all U.S. registered voters, the poll noted.

Pew found that 57% of Latinos believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases, slightly smaller share than the U.S. public overall at 62%. About two in three Latino Democrats say abortion should be legal, while about six in 10 Latino Republicans say abortion should be illegal, according to Pew. 

 A separate Axios-Ispos poll found that among all Latinos, not just Latino voters, half say abortion should be legal, while one-fourth said abortion should be illegal at all times under any circumstance.

That poll found that support for abortion rights increases among second-generation at 59% and third-generation at 62%, Latinos compared to immigrants, at 41%.

The Axios-Ispos poll found greater support for abortion rights among Latinos who only speak English, at 63%, compared to only 29% of Latinos who spoke only Spanish.

Latinos tend to be less supportive of abortion rights than other minority groups, according to Pew Research Center.

Pew found in a 2020 survey that 60% of Latino adults support legal abortion, compared to 74% of Asians, and 68% of African Americans, according to Pew. White adults express the least support for legal abortion, at 59%, according to Pew. 

As for Solis, the devout Catholic from Avondale, Arizona, she had mixed feelings after access to abortion became more restricted in Arizona on Sept. 24, the day after a Pima County judge ruled a near-total abortion ban could take effect.

On the same day, a second law signed earlier this year by Gov. Doug Ducey also took effect that criminalizes abortions after 15 weeks. As a result, it has become difficult if not impossible to get a surgical abortion in Arizona because abortion providers have stopped offering the procedure because of the ongoing legal confusion and fear of legal exposure.

"I'm pro-life, so there is a part of me that is happy," Solis said. "But the other part ... says this shouldn't be happening because there are a lot of circumstances where women now cannot choose about their own body."

Reach the reporter at daniel.gonzalez@arizonarepublic.com or at 602-444-8312. Follow him on Twitter @azdangonzalez.

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