Think You Know Texas Latin@s? When It Comes to Abortion, You Might Be Surprised

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All eyes are on Texas as the election approaches – and they are especially focused on Latin@s. Hidalgo County continues to outperform urban counties across the state, but especially in this election, certain assumptions about Latinas have brought doubt into the conversation.

If you’ve had a conversation about the importance of a demographic shift, it’s likely you’ve heard that Democrats shouldn’t take the Latin@ vote for granted – and that’s true. Like any other group, Latin@s are as varied as they are important to the future of our state. But that’s not what gives people pause. Instead, it’s an assumption about faith.

When speculating about the ability of Wendy Davis to win over Latin@s, her 2013 filibuster against the omnibus abortion bill inevitably comes up as a barrier for Latin@ voters. It’s an obstacle, you’ve probably heard, because of Latin@s and their Catholic faith. The question is always presented as, “How will Davis get past her filibuster fame to appeal to Latin@s?” but a new Texas poll by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health tells a different story.

In a survey of likely Latin@ voters in Texas, the poll attempted to break through the idea of the Latin@ monolith to get to the truth of their experiences. Using questions aimed at taking reproductive justice out of the realm of policy and into their reality and that of their friends and families, Latin@s in Texas have a much more nuanced view of abortion and reproductive healthcare than most pundits give them credit for.

Especially when placed within the context of personal choice and preparedness for parenthood, the survey found, the majority of Latin@s believe abortion should be accessible, legal, and that they hope that any friend or family member who chooses to have an abortion will be supported and loved.

The NLIRH also compared the results of the recent Texas poll to those from a nation poll taken in 2011. Along with a tendency to assume that Latin@s as a whole are more conservative than their white counterparts, many also assume that Texas Latin@s are especially so when compared with their Latina counterparts around the country. In fact, the poll found, when Texas Latin@s don’t mirror their national peers, it is because they are more invested in abortion access, care, and choice than other Latin@s around the country.

For example, Latin@s in Texas are more likely than their national counterparts to think that politicians should stay out of women’s personal healthcare decisions. A whopping 78% of Latin@s surveyed in the Texas poll agreed with this. This is especially stark when it comes to the people they care most about.

Seventy-three percent of Texas Latinas would support a close friend or family member if they shared that they had had an abortion. This is thirteen percent higher than the number of Latinas in the 2011 national poll who said they felt the same. Where 43% of the national sample said they would provide “a lot of support,” 58% of Latina Texans would offer that support to their friend or family member.

Further, a majority of Latin@s surveyed by NLIRH feel that the laws passing across the country are taking us in the wrong direction. They don’t believe that politicians have a right to interfere, and this is especially true when presented in the context of preparedness to parent.

Abortion is often presented in a vacuum where the debate centers on theoretical and religious ideas about conception and life. But when asked whether a person should be judged if they felt like they were simply not ready to become a parent, seventy-five percent of Latin@s said no.

Birth control and abortion are two topics that the Catholic church has not shied away from discussing, though the new Pope certainly seems interested in engaging with the dialogue. Many people assume that because the church has so often been seen to promote conservative beliefs and practices when it comes to family planning that Latin@s will agree, and that this will show up at the ballot box.

Instead, NLIRH found, Latin@s are highly supportive of access to both birth control and abortion. Not only did seventy-six percent of those surveyed believe that birth control was an aspect of “basic” healthcare that should be covered by health insurance regardless of who you work for, a majority of Latin@s in the poll also believe that all insurance plans – even those funded by the government – should cover a “full range” of reproductive healthcare, including abortion.

Perhaps the most telling of how effective this misleading rhetoric about Latin@ views on abortion has been is the comparison between those who say they would offer love and support to a friend or family member compared with the number of those surveyed who believe that after an abortion, Latin@s feel isolated and alone. While a majority of Latin@s said they would offer support to a loved one who chose to have an abortion, a similar majority believe that Latin@s are not supported by their community if they seek out these services.

The assumptions are simply not supported by the facts. These ideas are simplistic and based in ignorance, and they are harmful to our society. Latin@s are a diverse demographic, and reducing them to a monolith of conservative faith-based voters when it comes to reproductive health is just plain wrong.

This doesn’t mean that Democrats can rely on Latin@s to vote blue simply because their views on abortion are more nuanced than what the media would lead us to believe. Like any other group of voters, Latin@s want representation that speaks to them on issues as varied as their experiences as Texans. But when we rely on tired, old, and inherently racist assumptions about Latin@s and reproductive justice, we are selling our state and its voters short.

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About Author

Genevieve Cato

Genevieve Cato is a feminist activist and a native Texan. While not writing for the Burnt Orange Report, she can be found working for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, serving as a community member of the Communications Committee for the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, and drinking copious amounts of pretentious local craft beers.

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