Antiabortion rights activists are at it again. But instead of targeting African-American women’s reproductive health they’re focused on Latinas.
Last week the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles launched an antiabortion billboard campaign in Los Angeles, California, that reads: “El lugar mas peligroso para un Latino es el vientre de su madre/The most dangerous place for a Latino is in the womb.” The ad assails Latinas who decide abortion is the best decision for themselves and their families.
The billboard presumes that Latinas don’t know what’s best for themselves and their families. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the Latino community does know what is important for strong and healthy families. And contrary to conventional wisdom, Latinos are supportive of access to family planning, sex education, and a full range of reproductive health services. They are also supportive of a woman’s right to make her own decision about pregnancy and abortion.
In addition to attacking Latinas’ reproductive decision making, the campaign distracts from other important issues in the Latino community, such as immigration reform, jobs, and education.
Myth vs. reality in the Latino community on reproductive health
Conservative groups like those sponsoring the billboard perpetuate the myth that the Latino community is a socially conservative monolith that is opposed to abortion and other reproductive health issues. The reality is that most Latinas—including those who are Catholic—support women’s rights to the full range of reproductive health services. And Latinos would support a close friend or family member making a personal decision about her reproductive health care needs.
“It’s a myth to say that Latinas are not supportive of keeping abortion safe and legal and accessible,” says Silvia Henriquez, principal at ConwayStrategic, a consulting group, and an expert on reproductive health issues. “My work on Latina reproductive health issues has taught me that Latinas welcome conversations and information on the range of reproductive health care services.”
Los Angeles-based statewide policy group California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, or CLRJ, will soon release the results of a new survey of Latinos and Latinas in California that identifies the core values of the community and challenges the myths antiabortion activists perpetuate. CLRJ’s research confirms that family is central to reproductive decision making in the Latino community. The key findings of the survey show that:
- Latinos support families communicating about sexual and reproductive health. According to the survey, 80 percent of respondents think it is extremely important for parents to talk with their own children about sexuality-related issues.
- Latinos support access to a range of reproductive health services, including contraception, for everyone in their community. More than 8 in 10 respondents believe that a Latina woman should have the right to decide for herself the number and spacing of her children.
- Latino support for women’s health care includes access to safe and legal abortion. About 7 in 10 respondents agreed that while they may not choose to have an abortion themselves, they would protect that right and not take the decision away from other women. A majority of respondents also agree that women need medically accurate, objective information about pregnancy termination services.
- Latinas understand the responsibilities of parenthood and family life. It is precisely that understanding that informs a woman’s decision about whether to carry a pregnancy to term. Forty percent of respondents identified a person’s financial situation and not wanting a child as most influential to a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy.
Marisol Franco, director of Policy and Advocacy at California Latinas for Reproductive Justice explains, “Devaluing a Latina’s decision-making ability undermines the whole community. They are saying Latinas are irresponsible when we know that’s not the case.”
Same campaign, different target
Billboards attacking the moral character of women of color for their reproductive decisions are not new. In fact, in recent years we have seen attacks against African-American women in Atlanta, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
Sixty-five billboards were erected in predominantly black neighborhoods in Atlanta in 2010. They read: “Black Children are an Endangered Species.” Right-wing, antiabortion organizations were driving the campaign and pushing for state antiabortion legislation. After the billboards were erected, the Atlanta-based Sistersong/Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective organized a targeted and successful campaign to defeat the legislation and remove the billboards.
The new Los Angeles billboard slogan is nearly identical to the slogan on a billboard erected in New York during Black History Month earlier this year that read: “The most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb.”
Franco points out the irony of the Los Angeles billboard’s message: “Despite Latinas experiencing multiple socioeconomic disparities, Latinas still have high positive pregnancy and birth outcomes…As a matter of fact, one can say a Latina womb is the safest place for a wanted Latino baby.”
Research shows that maternal and infant mortality rates, infant birth weight, and breastfeeding rates for many Latinas are similar to or better than those of white women. The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health rightly declared: “These offensive ads have no place in our communities.”
Campaign ignores real community concerns
The Latino community is under attack. But the threat is not coming from Latinas’ reproductive health decisions; the threat comes from efforts to cut funding for critical programs that help women and their families survive.
The Latino community is disproportionately affected by economic insecurity. Jobs continue to be a concern with Hispanic unemployment rate hovering at 11.8 percent. According to the most recent Census data, 25.3 percent of Hispanics are poor, compared to 12.3 percent of whites. Among women of reproductive age (15 to 44 years old) living in poverty, 27.2 percent are Hispanic, compared to 15.8 percent who are white. And CLRJ notes that Latinas in California lack health insurance at approximately three times the rate of their white counterparts.
Programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, help put food on the table for 16.6 million children who experience food insecurity. Almost 31 percent of those children are Latino. Despite the millions of children that rely on SNAP for food, the GOP’s fiscal year 2012 budget proposal would convert the program into a block grant, cutting $127 billion over the next 10 years.
According to Henriquez: “At the core of the Latino community is concern about access to quality health care services and ensuring that kids have access to quality education.” CLRJ’s survey data demonstrated similar themes of family, health, and education. “All the things that a Latina needs to raise a family—those are the real issues that need to be tackled,” Franco added.
Instead of using scare tactics and over-the-top billboard messages, those who truly care about the Latino community need to figure out ways to address the inequities in health, education, or economic security that are affecting Latino families. Diverting the conversation away from these issues does a disservice to Latinas, their families, and the entire Latino community.
As Henriquez puts it: “Latinas are the pillars of their families and community…[and] Latinos support women making decisions about their reproductive health.”
Alex Walden is a Policy Analyst with the Women Health and Rights Program at American Progress.