America Comment

Why Hispanic immigrants are so pro-life

Worshippers pray next to a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the Americas especially revered by Mexicans, during Mass at the St John Paul II Pastoral Center in Gainesville (AP)

A Hispanic Catholic born outside the US is far more likely to oppose abortion

A recent poll reveals that while White Catholics sadly mirror national divisions on abortion, Hispanic and Latino Catholics paint a more complicated picture. Hispanic Catholics are the ethnic group least likely to support the legality of abortion, but drilling down into the data shows that Hispanic Catholics born outside the U.S. were far less likely to support the legality of abortion (59 per cent oppose abortion) than if they were born inside the U.S. In a political climate where it is simply assumed that Hispanic immigrants are a reliable voting block for Democrats, the data suggests that they are not natural allies of the party of Planned Parenthood.

In America magazine, J.D. Long-García notes that because “Hispanics were the only race or ethnicity where a majority of respondents thought that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases,” Latino lawmakers find it difficult to represent their constituents in a party which supports abortion on demand. A woman who works on Latino parish engagement in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Ms. De Los Santos, explains that Hispanic Catholics “are more likely to identify as pro-family than as pro-life” because the family is the context for understanding the value and sanctity of life. “We grow up with our grandparents and take care of them until they die.” A strong sense of a large and extended family with real familial obligations shapes how they think about the legality of abortion.

This is not to say that Hispanic women are not having abortions. They tragically are. But Raimundo Rojas, director of Latino Outreach for the National Right to Life notes in the same article that the stigma of abortion is far more pronounced in Hispanic communities. “It’s something that isn’t done…You can’t look at the Hispanic culture without dealing with telenovelas. Women who have abortions in telenovelas are the villains.” A strong moral disgust underwrites even Latino support for the legality of abortion.

The conclusion drawn in America’s reporting on the data is commendable as far as it goes: immigration and abortion are both about human dignity, and are better bedfellows than partisan issues. That conclusion is, however, a political wish that seems distant from political reality. It also doesn’t help to explain why the Hispanic population stands out, in contrast to White Catholics, or why being born in America would become a solvent for those familial attachments that undergird their support for pro-life legislation.

One possible explanation which moves in this direction, however, might be found in Mary Eberstadt’s new book Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics. The book is out next week, and presents a new approach to thinking about the collective “primal screams” of our identity politics as a scream “born of familial liquidation.” In a fascinating essay published this week at Quillette called “The Great Scattering,” Eberstadt previews her thesis that “our macro-politics have become a mania about identity because our micropolitics are no longer familial.”

The inverse of that claim would be that where the micropolitics of the family still have a significant claim on people’s lives, they will be less drawn into the “primal screams” of identity that so distort our politics — including the politics of abortion. Eberstadt explains:

“Up until the middle of the twentieth century (and barring the frequent foreshortening of life by disease or nature) human expectations remained largely the same throughout the ages: that one would grow up to have children and a family; that parents and siblings and extended family would remain one’s primal community; and that, conversely, it was a tragedy not to be part of a family. The post-1960s order of sexual consumerism has upended every one of these expectations.”

Our political crisis, in other words, is deeply rooted in a familial crisis that is existentially felt. She asks, “Where, if anywhere, are my cousins, grandparents, nieces, nephews and the rest of the organic connections through which humanity up until now channeled everyday existence?” Where people once regard cousins as secondary siblings, the concept of the cousin itself has become negotiable. Eberstadt concludes that our great “panic over identity” is really “being driven by the fact that the human animal has been selected for familial forms of socialization that for many people no longer exist.”

While Eberstadt’s argument is really directed at identity politics more broadly, it strikes me that it also inclines to a good explanation for why Hispanic Catholics not born in the U.S. are so profoundly pro-life. On Eberstadt’s argument, if Hispanics have retained those “familial forms of socialization that for many people no longer exists,” it simply would follow that by suffering less from the kind of bleak isolation “born of familial liquidation” that Eberstadt sees, they would also be less likely to support the bleak and devastating familial liquidation of the unborn.

Pope Saint John Paul II put it best: “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”