Politics

Democrats see recent abortion rulings as an opening to galvanize Latino voters

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Democrats see recent state court rulings on abortion as a galvanizing moment to mobilize Latino voters in key states and battleground House districts, with a message about personal freedoms and access to reproductive health care.

Just this week, Arizona’s Supreme Court ruled that an 1864 abortion ban is enforceable, a decision that came a week after Florida’s Supreme Court allowed a six-week abortion ban to take effect. Coupled with Texas’ state law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, that puts many of the most heavily Latino House battlegrounds in the country in the middle of the nationwide fight over abortion policy.

Republicans have sought to sway more Latino voters to their side for years, and since 2020, support among Latinos for former President Donald Trump has spiked upward. And while Latino voters come from all different backgrounds, some of that shift has long been attributed to high levels of social conservatism and Catholicism in Hispanic communities.

But Democratic candidates and political strategists who spoke with NBC News argued that perceptions about the impact of Catholicism in Latino communities and how Latino voters view abortion is a misconception.

“Latino voters are not a monolith,” Victoria McGroary, the executive director of BOLD PAC, the Democratic-aligned campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told NBC News. She added: “This is fundamentally about freedom. And it is something … Latino voters really, really care about.”

“Listen, Latina voters may have personal opinions that differ on what they might do in a specific circumstance. But the thing that is extremely clear among them … is that they do not want politicians involved in this decision in any way, shape or form,” McGroary added.

Framing abortion and health care together

Many Hispanic Americans outright support abortion access and reproductive rights. An Axios/Ipsos poll conducted in partnership with Telemundo that was released earlier this week found that 68% of Latino adults in the U.S. oppose making all abortions illegal at any time, under any circumstance.

That’s not exactly what’s on the books in terms of state bans, even in Arizona, where the law recently upheld by the state Supreme Court bans abortion from the moment of conception but still includes an exception to protect the life of the mother. (The Arizona law is still on hold pending additional court cases.) Texas and Florida’s six-week bans include a similar exception, while Florida’s also has an extended window in cases of rape or incest.

But the poll results explain why a number of Democratic activists and candidates see the issue as an opportunity to make their case, and why they are framing abortion restrictions not just as bans but also as barriers to basic health care.

In Texas’ 15th District, where about 80% of the district is Latino, Democrat Michelle Vallejo is taking on GOP Rep. Monica De La Cruz for the second time after losing by nearly 9 points in 2022. Vallejo told NBC News that “our families and voters are paying attention to this because it’s affecting people in their very own homes.”

“We are a region that lacks access to very basic health care. Here we are a region that is severely underinsured and — that is if people even have insurance to begin with, which many, many do not — so this is a very, very real issue,” Vallejo added.

De La Cruz’s campaign did not respond to an NBC News request for comment.

Former Arizona state Sen. Kirsten Engel, another Democrat running in a congressional rematch, echoed Vallejo, accusing her opponent, GOP Rep. Juan Ciscomani, of “enabling the restriction on your rights … from voting for restricting medication abortion, which affects so many Latinos and Hispanic women, especially those living in our more rural areas, where there is less easy access to health care and doctors and clinics.”

In response to questions from NBC News, Ciscomani’s campaign said the congressman is “opposed to a total ban at both the state and federal levels. That’s why he’s called for Arizona’s territorial ban to be repealed. Juan is where most Arizonans are — he supports a 15-week law with reasonable exceptions. He believes we can support women and new life.”

Vallejo often references a conversation she had with her grandmother early in her political career, saying that “growing up in my own home, it was an issue we wouldn’t talk about. We didn’t talk about reproductive health care.”

She added, “[My grandmother and I] agreed that women and doctors should be the only ones making [reproductive] decisions. And politicians … should be nowhere involved in making those decisions for us.”

The Axios/Ipsos survey conducted in partnership with Telemundo reinforced this notion.

Sixty-seven percent of Hispanic or Latino adults surveyed said they oppose government policymakers basing laws and policies on their religious views.

McGroary said that, often, where Latino families originated plays a larger part in shaping their views on reproductive freedom than their personal beliefs or religion.

“A lot of Latino voters in this country have backgrounds that come from places where freedoms are very limited and under attack regularly. And they know that that is not true here in America,” McGroary said.

A key issue in congressional campaigns

Democrats across the country are planning to make abortion policy a key part of their campaigns again this year, after it proved to be a motivating issue in 2022.

Internal polling presented this week to House Democrats, which was obtained by NBC News, showed a strong majority of respondents in battleground districts saying that they thought unified Republican control of the House, Senate and White House would lead Republicans to pursue significant additional restrictions on abortion.

One House Republican strategist pushed back on the notion that this would drive election results this fall, telling NBC News that Republican candidates have been “crystal clear” on where they stand on abortion.

The strategist pointed to statements released this week by Ciscomani and Arizona GOP Rep. David Schweikert, who both serve in swing House districts, opposing the state Supreme Court ruling.

“They’re pushing back on [the ruling], and that’s part of the formula for us to win on the issue,” the strategist said, adding: “We have the reasonable position and Democrats don’t.”

Similarly, Kari Lake, the likely GOP Senate nominee in Arizona, said again in the wake of the state Supreme Court ruling that she would not back a federal abortion ban and does not back the Arizona ban.

And on Friday, former President Donald Trump made his own statement rebuking the Arizona Supreme Court, saying in a post on Truth Social: “The Supreme Court in Arizona went too far on their Abortion Ruling, enacting and approving an inappropriate Law from 1864.”

But Democrats in Arizona say this week’s state Supreme Court ruling sent shockwaves through the community that have already led to more organizing in Latino communities, for Democratic candidates and for a ballot initiative that would make abortion a fundamental right in the state.

“There’s a lot of shock. It’s unbelievable,” said Raquel Terán, former chair of the Arizona Democratic Party and current candidate for a heavily Democratic congressional seat in the Phoenix area. “A lot of people are distraught. A lot of people are feeling numb. A lot of people are feeling ready to organize.”

Engel added that for women of all backgrounds in Arizona, the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is no longer hypothetical.

“Voters here in Arizona are seeing really what it means to leave abortion access to the states. And before, if that was not clear what that could mean, it’s very clear today,” she said.

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