By Maria Elena Perez, National Institute of Reproductive Health
As we come to yet another important election season, in which our basic right to choose hangs in the balance, we must ask: what is at stake for Latinas’ access to reproductive health care—and what will Latinas and Latinos do in November?
A common assumption dictates that Latinos oppose abortion access. This assumption gains currency because abortion is so often treated as simply a cultural or religious issue, not an experience connected to or embedded in women’s overall lives.
At the National Institute for Reproductive Health, we question those assumptions. As part of our mission to galvanize public support, change policy, and remove barriers to reproductive health care, we recently released polling testing voters’ opinions on policies related to abortion access. We found that rather than seeing abortion as an issue in isolation, voters link access to abortion to women’s financial stability and overall equality.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that voters understand the intersection between a woman’s ability to access abortion and her ability to support herself and her family. Especially as Latinas and other women of color experience disproportionately high unintended pregnancy rates, are more likely to live in poverty and be unable to afford abortion (or other healthcare) out-of-pocket, and are more likely to be enrolled in public insurance programs, the question of deciding when and whether to have children is inextricably linked to financial and overall wellbeing.
This intersection between abortion access and financial security has historically been an area of attack for politicians who want to ban abortion altogether. The Hyde Amendment is a prime example of how politicians have tried to attack abortion access and financial stability in one fell swoop. Currently, politicians in Washington have banned the use of federal funds for abortion coverage for: Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries; Peace Corps volunteers; Federal employees and their dependents; Native American women; women in federal prisons and detention centers, including those detained for immigration purposes. And indeed, many states have followed suit with state-level bans and unfair policies. More than one in three Latinas receives her healthcare from a program, insurer, or employer affected by these bans – making Latinas disproportionately affected by such restrictive policies, and less likely to escape debilitating cycles of oppression.
But we’re beginning to see this intersection between abortion access and women’s overall wellbeing transform from a point of vulnerability for women in the margins to a rallying cry that gives voice to such women’s lived experiences. Just look at the groundswell in engagement we’ve seen across the country as the All* Above All campaign to end the unjust bans on abortion coverage gains traction, especially among the very women hardest hit by unfair bans on funding.
We saw this transformation on display in Albuquerque last election season, where anti-choice extremists got a 20-week abortion ban on the ballot, triggering the local Albuquerque community to spring into action – with Latinas and other women of color leading the charge – using the “Strong Families” message that emphasized the central role that abortion access plays in the overall wellbeing of our families and our communities.
And we expect to see such activism – and results! – on display again in defeating the anti-choice ballot measures this fall. In Tennessee, voters will face a an amendment to the state constitution that would repeal a woman’s right to privacy and dramatically expand the power of elected officials in the state to restrict abortion rights. Coloradans will vote, once again, on an anti-choice “personhood”-like ballot measure that aims to amend the state constitution, which could pave the way for a ban on abortion that includes no exceptions.
We often hear about the potential impact of the “Latino vote.” What many people don’t know—or appreciate—is that many Latinos vote pro-choice. Exit poll results from the 2012 Presidential election found that about two-thirds of Latinos (66%) said that abortion should be legal, with only 28% disagreeing.
In our work in NY and around the country we have engaged hundreds of activists and advocates who refuse to grant credence to the political ploys that isolate and ostracize abortion care. As Latinas go to the polls this fall, they will make it clear that access to reproductive health care, including abortion, is part and parcel of what gives us all the ability to support ourselves, care for our families, and lead healthy, productive, equal lives. As National Hispanic Heritage Month comes to an end and the American electorate goes to the ballot box, Latinas around the country will participate in this conversation in ever increasing numbers and their voices will surely be heard.