Democrats, Sensing Shift on Abortion Rights Among Latinas, Push for More Gains


Hours before Arizona state legislators voted to repeal an 1864 abortion ban last month, a group of mostly Latina Democrats huddled at a nearby Mexican restaurant for a strategy session on galvanizing Latina voters over abortion rights.

“I am 23 — why do I have less rights than my abuelita in Mexico?” Melissa Herrera, a Democratic campaign staffer, asked the cluster of women at the restaurant, referring to her grandmother.

The question crystallized what Democrats hope will be a decisive electoral factor in their favor this year, one that upends conventional political wisdom: A majority of Latino voters now support abortion rights, according to polls, a reversal from two decades ago. Polling trends, interviews with strategists and election results in Ohio and Virginia, where abortion rights played a central role, suggest Democrats’ optimism regarding Latinas — once considered too religious or too socially conservative to support abortion rights — could bear out.

Since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in 2022, stringent curbs have been taking effect in Republican-dominated states. In Arizona, for one, the May 2 repeal of the blanket ban from 1864 still leaves abortions governed by a two-year-old law prohibiting the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with no exception for rape or incest.

As of April 2023, according to the Pew Research Center, 62 percent of Latinos believed abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Twenty years earlier, most Hispanics told Pew that they opposed abortion rights by a nearly two-to-one margin. (The most recent polling has been conducted online, instead of over the phone, but the surveys show an overall gradual shift in opinions.)

Latino majorities came out in favor of reproductive rights in 2023 elections in Ohio and Virginia, according to other surveys, and women played a major role in stalling the shift of Hispanic voters toward the Republican Party in 2022, when many voted for Democrats, citing abortion and reproductive health as the most important issue.

“Abortion is going to be an essential issue this cycle,” said Victoria McGroary, the executive director of BOLD PAC, the campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “We are going to see what I think is going to be crystal-clear evidence that reproductive freedom matters to Latino voters.”

Surveys show the diversity of the Latino voting population still poses some obstacles for Democrats, with support for abortion rights varying based on factors including age, geography and party affiliation. Latino voters in South Texas and South Florida remain more culturally conservative, and a majority of Latino evangelicals, a growing segment of the population, still says abortion should be illegal.

Within that culturally conservative world, many remain unmoved.

Leaving a shopping plaza in Phoenix, Daisy Ochoa, 31, a paralegal, said she was planning to vote for Republicans in November because their stances on the issue are in line with her Christian faith.

“I believe that if there is life, there is life,” she said. “I don’t think anybody should take life, unless there’s some threat to the mom.”

But outside a grocery store near downtown, Gina Fernandez, 52, a Democrat and an administrative assistant, offered signs that Democrats had struck a nerve. She said she had been raised in a Mexican American and Roman Catholic household but had considered her right to abortion a foregone conclusion until the Supreme Court overturned Roe. That jolted her and her 19-year-old daughter. She used to vote for the best candidate regardless of party affiliation, Ms. Fernandez said.

“This cycle, I’m voting for all Democrats,” she said.

Democratic officials and activists in Arizona point to lingering uncertainty over abortion access in the state, since the repeal will not take effect until 90 days after the Legislature adjourns for the summer. That, they say, is fueling support for a November ballot initiative that would enshrine the right to abortion in the state’s Constitution — and could lift Democrats up and down the ballot.

“It is still not over,” said Mary Rose Wilcox, a former city councilwoman and elected county official who owns El Portal, the restaurant that has served as a center of Latino political activity in Phoenix and hosted the April strategy session. “We need a straight law that safeguards protections.”

The women also said they needed to counter what they called misconceptions about Latino voters’ conservatism.

“I always say I’m a pro-choice Catholic,” Raquel Terán, a Democratic House candidate who convened the round-table meeting, said in an interview. “I go to Mass, but I also support a woman’s right to choose.”

Rosie Villegas-Smith, a Mexican immigrant who founded Voces Unidas por la Vida, an anti-abortion organization in Phoenix, said she believed Hispanic support for abortion rights in recent polling was overblown. She accused Democrats of fear-mongering and misleading voters on the issue.

“They speak in euphemisms and say abortion is health care but abortion is not health care,” she said. “Once Latinos learn what abortion truly is, they are against it.”

Republicans at the national level argue that abortion is not going to matter more to Latinos than crime, border security or the economy, particularly among working-class families worried about the cost of gas and groceries.

“You have seen Republicans making up ground with Latino voters because of a message on those issues,” said Jack Pandol, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of House Republicans. “They have a better message on improving quality of life, on bringing costs down, on making communities safe.”

A crop of Latina Democratic candidates is nonetheless running on abortion rights in districts with large or fast-growing Hispanic populations. In interviews, some said the fall of Roe had made the issue more urgent for their constituencies — and made voters more receptive to their message that abortion access was crucial to personal freedom and health care, even if the voters themselves were against the procedure.

In Oregon, Representative Andrea Salinas, who in 2022 became one of the first two Hispanic candidates elected to Congress from the state, said she cast the issue of abortion rights as a matter of “empowering women to make their own personal choices with their doctor.”

“I didn’t have as much as my competitors to put out glossy mailers or fancy television ads, but what I did have I used to lean into reproductive rights,” said Ms. Salinas, adding that the issue helped fuel her victory in a northeastern district home to the most Latinos in the state.

Ms. Terán, who is running to become the first Latina to represent Arizona in Congress, recalled that Democratic operatives cautioned her not to talk about her past work experience with Planned Parenthood, an abortion rights group, when she first ran for a state legislative seat in 2018 because it was a Latino-heavy district. She disregarded that advice and won.

She went on to make abortion rights central to her platform in the Arizona House. In 2019, she and other state lawmakers visited El Salvador to study the impact of the nation’s abortion ban, and they met with women who had been imprisoned for having the procedure done. She later co-wrote the measure that repealed Arizona’s 1864 abortion law.

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