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Abortion views differ for Tampa area Latinos. How will it play out at the polls?

Most Hispanics in the United States think abortion should be legal.
Lalita Tooley, 53, poses with her two special needs sons Connor, 18, and Jack, 16, in their apartment on Thursday, June 30, 2022 in Riverview.
Lalita Tooley, 53, poses with her two special needs sons Connor, 18, and Jack, 16, in their apartment on Thursday, June 30, 2022 in Riverview. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Jul. 9

RIVERVIEW — For Maria “Lalita” Tooley, abortion was never an option.

After three miscarriages, she gave birth to her first son, who has Down syndrome, and another son who is on the autism spectrum.

“I am a person who defends life,” said the 53-year-old single mother, who was born in Mexico.

Ana Lamb, 47, an activist in Tampa, is a mother of two teen daughters and two boys.

As a former health counselor, she remembers encountering women who didn’t want to breastfeed their newborns because they were the result of rape or abuse.

“Abortion is a personal decision,” Lamb said. “I can’t tell a woman or a girl not to do it.”

The two women’s views on abortion show the division among Hispanics after the Supreme Court on June 24 struck down the nearly 50-year precedent established by Roe v. Wade, leaving it to states to decide how to handle the issue.

Related: Florida’s 15-week abortion ban took effect Friday. Here’s what to know.

How those views play out at the polls for Hispanics in the November midterm elections is uncertain, as they’re more likely to be swayed by age and religious beliefs.

People of color and Hispanics could change how they vote due to the Supreme Court’s abortion decision, said Lydia Medrano, local director of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

“Perhaps after this decision, many will take a different attitude to this situation. I hope so,” she said. “It would be good if our people, especially young voters, realized that they have to help make decisions. I’m talking about civic participation. That’s why it’s important to register to vote.”

Political preferences

Tooley said her experiences helped her understand the value of life. Before becoming a mother, she worked for three years at the Maternal and Child Health Coalition in Wimauma. There, she was a counselor in a community program helping young mothers.

Now, she cares for her teen sons, Connor, 18, and Jack, 16, in her small, Section 8 subsidized apartment in Riverview. Her sons receive financial support from Social Security. To pay some of her remaining bills, she works as a delivery driver on weekends.

“I love my kids and everything I do is for them,” Tooley said. “Life is hard, I know, but at the same time — I think it’s a blessing.”

Tooley’s views on abortion don’t necessarily reflect those of the majority of Hispanics.

More than half of the Latinos in the United States agree that abortion should be legal, according to a new survey on Hispanics and abortion by Axios/Ipsos Latino in partnership with Telemundo. The survey also found about a quarter condemn abortion.

The bilingual online survey of 1,018 Latinos in the United States was conducted June 9 to June 18, before the Supreme Court’s recent abortion ruling.

The poll showed a majority of second-generation Latinos (59%) and the third generation (62%) agree that abortion should be legal. The figure among the first generation is less than half (41%) because they are less likely to support abortion rights.

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Chris Jackson, Ipsos pollster and senior vice president, told the Tampa Bay Times that religious convictions influence views on abortion.

“Much of this difference appears to come from first-generation Latinos’ stronger religious convictions, where 82% report going to church at least once a year compared to only 54% of third-generation Latino Americans,” Jackson said.

A new Pew Research Center survey also looked at the public’s attitudes about abortion.

According to the Center, 60% of Republican voters believe abortion should be illegal. By contrast, 80% of Democrats want abortion to be legal.

Another finding from the survey: about 60% of Hispanic adults and 59% of white adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, as do two-thirds of Black adults (68%) and three-quarters of Asians (74%).

The beliefs of younger generations may sway more of them to vote in the upcoming midterms.

Susan MacManus, emeritus professor of political science at the University of South Florida, said more young women are going to college. And many of them, she said, are becoming activists and getting involved in their communities.

MacManus said those factors are likely to motivate women and younger voter turnout.

Felipe Mantilla, associate professor at the School of Global Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of South Florida, said he is not convinced that the recent decision will change how Hispanics vote during the November midterm elections.

“We will see a consolidation of political preferences,” Mantilla said. “Latinos who are Democrats will see themselves as more Democrats than ever,” he said. “And we’ll see those Latinos who are historically Republicans closer to their party.”

Related: Why Florida isn’t losing the right to an abortion … yet

Health care disparities

Generational differences and religious convictions are only a slice of the whole abortion debate, Lamb said. The discussion is as diverse as the roots of Latinos themselves, she said.

“We cannot judge women who decide to abort. We have to understand that each case is unique,” said Lamb, who worked for five years as a family advocate for the Utah Department of Health. She also worked two years for the Florida Department of Health as a breastfeeding counselor for young women.

A challenge many Hispanic families face is a lack of health insurance, Lamb said.

Nearly 4.3 million, or 5.6%, among all U.S. children have no insurance, according to census data. That’s a 7% increase over 2019.

Uninsured families often don’t have access to pediatricians. Among Hispanic children, 9.5% lack health insurance, and among Black children, it’s 6%.

“For these desperate women, and under these circumstances, abortion is an act of love and not selfishness,” Lamb said.

Related: Where do Tampa Bay employers stand on Roe v. Wade? Most won’t say.

Ileana Cintron, deputy director of Enterprising Latinas, a Wimauma nonprofit that works to develop and manage opportunities for Hispanic women, said the Supreme Court decision is a culmination of a systemic attack on women’s rights and their access to reproductive care. Wimauma is one of the most impoverished areas in the region.

Among demographic groups in Florida, Black people accounted for 34% of abortions, whites 30.9% and Hispanics, 29.7%, according to a 2019 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most recent data available.

Cintron urged Congress to enact national legislation that protects and expands women’s rights. But she fears the Supreme Court’s decision will increase challenges such as women’s access to health care. She is particularly worried about people of color and immigrant women who have historically been affected by disparities in health care, she said.

“A woman’s ability to make autonomous decisions about her body and health is fundamental to her sense of self, her family’s economic stability, and her contributions to the economy and society,” Cintron said.

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