Roe v. Wade 40 years later: Latinas weigh in on abortion

Pro choice advocate Johannes Schimdt (L) argues his point of view to pro-life supporters in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building January 22, 2007 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Today marks the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and although the ruling still stands, and President Obama has vowed to protect access to birth control and abortion, women’s reproductive rights continue to be challenged.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 42 states and the District of Columbia enacted 122 provisions related to reproductive health and rights in 2012, and one-third of these new provisions, 43 in 19 states, sought to restrict access to abortion services. It is the second highest number of new abortion restrictions passed in a year.

These restrictions continue despite evidence of changing attitudes towards abortion. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that seven in 10 respondents oppose Roe v. Wade being overturned, which is the highest percentage on this question since 1989. “The dialogue we have had in the last year has contributed … to inform and shift attitudes,” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff.

Latinos might be a large portion of that percentage. According to the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, the media’s notion that Latinos are socially conservative is also inaccurate. “Latinos are typically portrayed as very religious and very Catholic. The reality is that 90 percent of married Catholic Latinas have used birth control banned by the Vatican,” says executive director Jessica González-Rojas.

A poll conducted on behalf of NLIRH and the Reproductive Health Technologies Project (RHTP) also found that 74 percent of Latino registered voters agree that a woman has a right to make her own personal, private decisions about abortion without politicians interfering.

“Historically, the perspective of Latinos hasn’t changed. The Latino population isn’t in favor of limiting anyone’s options,” says Lorena Garcia, executive director of Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights.

But some Latinas disagree with these findings. “I think it’s totally inaccurate,” says Mercedes Arzu Wilson, founder and President of Family of the Americas Foundation, an organization that promotes natural family planning.“I wonder how they asked the question,” she says, “because most Hispanics are the ones who buy our materials.”

Low-income women and women of color are rarely part of the abortion debate, but on the 40th anniversary of Roe w. Wade, many Latinas around the country will be reflecting on these new findings and discussing their thoughts on abortion.

“It’s inconceivable that any country that calls itself civilized or advanced could legalize the destruction of innocent lives,” Wilson says.

González-Rojas says that on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade her organization “will recognize that there’s a right women can utilize, but for the women we work with, accessing that right seems to be a challenge.” And because of these barriers, her organization has developed holistic approach to reproductive health. “We have a lens that incorporates issues of class, race, immigration, and sexual orientation.” She says they are also launching a new campaign called “Yo Te Apoyo” to give a voice to those who support women making a difficult choice about their pregnancy.

Maricela Lupercio, director of Latinos 4 Life, a nonprofit providing education and outreach for Latino youth and families, says she’s very passionate about counseling young girls who are pregnant and is reminded of Roe v. Wade every day. On the 40th anniversary, she says she’ll “be reflecting on the 55 million people who were not born and the many men and women who are mourning the loss of their child. I will continue to reach out to Latino families to continue the discussion.”

Some Latinas, like Garcia, will be celebrating, but ambivalently. “This means that we’ve gone 40 years and we still haven’t ensured full access to everyone. It’s a time to celebrate, but it’s also a time of reflection. I hope that across the country we’re all doing that.”

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