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Latina candidates plan abortion rights push

Democrats say polls show opposition to bans, even among Hispanic Catholics

Former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Florida Democrat now vying for Senate, says Hispanic women view abortion limits as infringing on their civil rights.
Former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Florida Democrat now vying for Senate, says Hispanic women view abortion limits as infringing on their civil rights. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Shortly after deciding to run for Congress on a platform that supports abortion rights, Democrat Michelle Vallejo had a conversation with her grandmother.

Given their generational differences, the complexities of the abortion politics and her grandmother’s deep religious faith, they didn’t find consensus on every aspect of the issue.

“That was probably one of the most challenging conversations I had,” said Vallejo, the daughter of Mexican immigrants who is making her second run for Congress in a South Texas swing district against Republican Rep. Monica De La Cruz. 

But “where we agreed is that nobody other than [a] woman and her health care providers should be the ones making that decision,” she said. “It’s not right for politicians like [Texas Gov.] Greg Abbott or Monica De La Cruz or [Texas Sen.] Ted Cruz to be involved in these very private decisions.”

Vallejo is one of at least seven Latina Democrats running for Congress in 2024 who have made access to abortion a cornerstone of their campaigns. 

They “know that it is a winning issue across the board and are running unapologetic campaigns centered on abortion rights,” said Danni Wang, a spokeswoman for EMILY’s List, which backs Democratic women who support abortion access.

BOLD PAC, the campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, plans to “lean in very hard” on the issue this cycle, said Victoria McGroary, the group’s executive director. 

“We know that we are on the right side of the argument,” she said. “We know that voters hate the Republican position and that it is key to our path to victory.”

While Republicans have made inroads with Latino voters in recent years, Democrats say the GOP’s support for strict limits on abortion threatens to undercut those gains. A majority of Hispanics, 57 percent, say abortion should be legal in most or all cases, according to a Pew Research Center survey released in 2022. Among young Latinos, one of the nation’s fastest-growing demographic groups, that figure climbs to 72 percent.

Support for reproductive rights remains strong even among Catholic Latinos. Polling data from eight key states compiled by UnidosUS, a Hispanic civil rights organization, found that 71 percent of Latinos opposed efforts to make abortion illegal or “take that choice away from everyone else,” regardless of their personal beliefs.

“We know that Latinos want all the options on the table,” McGroary said. “This is [true] even among individual voters who may be more conservative in their own lives. Ultimately, they believe that this is a decision reserved for them and the people that they care about. They do not, in any way, shape or form, want politicians making that decision for them.”

The GOP has been struggling to find its footing on the abortion issue since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June 2022 and Republican-controlled states began passing new restrictions or outright bans on the procedure. Meanwhile, supporters of reproductive rights have won ballot initiatives in seven states, including Ohio, Kansas, Montana and Kentucky, all states that Donald Trump won in 2020.

Activists in Florida, Arizona and about seven other states are seeking to put similar initiatives to protect abortion rights on the November ballot. (Two other states, New York and Maryland, have already approved such ballot measures, while in Iowa, abortion opponents are pressing for a referendum to restrict access to the procedure.) 

Asked how the party planned to talk about abortion in the upcoming election cycle, a House GOP strategist said messaging is key. 

“Republican candidates cannot allow their opponents to define their position on abortion for them,” said the strategist, who requested anonymity, a sign of how politically fraught abortion rights remain for the GOP. 

“The key to neutralizing the attack is simple — be open and honest about their policy beliefs, including exceptions, express empathy for women put into difficult situations and inform voters that Democrats are the extremists on the issue, favoring legal abortions up to the moment of birth,” the strategist added.

‘Not talking about hypotheticals’

Republican vulnerabilities on abortion were exposed last month, when a Texas woman named Kate Cox was barred from obtaining an abortion after discovering that her fetus had a fatal genetic disorder. 

“We’re not talking about hypotheticals anymore,” Vallejo said. “This is a very real issue that is directly putting women and families in danger.”

Allyson Muñiz Damikolas, a Democrat seeking to unseat Republican Rep. Young Kim in Southern California, said the GOP’s stance on abortion fails to take into account the personal impact of such policies. She has two daughters who have underlying medical conditions that she said could put their lives at risk if they became pregnant.

“I think voters see this as a complex issue,” Muñiz Damikolas said. “And as a Latina, as someone who grew up in a Catholic family … I’m able to communicate this kind of complexity to voters in this district, and especially to women.”

Running against Republican Sen. Rick Scott in Florida, Democratic former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell says she hears from Latinas across the political spectrum who are concerned about reproductive rights.

“It’s not only Democrats or independents — I have had conversations with Republican women [who say] that this is an issue that will bring them to the polls,” Mucarsel-Powell said. “They’re not going to allow politicians to be in their visit with their doctor or in their bedroom telling them what they can or cannot do.”

An immigrant from Ecuador who would become the first Latina senator from Florida, Mucarsel-Powell said many Hispanic women who came to the United States to escape government repression view strict limits on abortion as an infringement on their civil rights.

“We know what it’s like to live under a government that tries to control every aspect of our life, and we’re not going to tolerate that here in Florida,” she said. “This is the kind of control and extremism that we see in Latin American regimes, not here in the United States of America.”

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