LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A few weeks after a one-night stand and a failed morning-after pill, Ana saw only one option: Two days later she had her pregnancy terminated at a free clinic.
The 28-year-old graduate student, who came to the United States from Guatemala when she was a toddler, called it one of the easiest, clearest decisions of her life. “Having a child is not in my plans right now,” Ana said in an interview from New York City.
Her mother, while supportive, exclaimed “Why didn’t you just tell me and I would have taken care of your baby?”
Ana, who requested her real name not be used, has not told her father, who would be “heartbroken,” she said.
Ana and her family reflect the changing attitudes toward abortion among U.S. Hispanics — traditionally an anti-abortion group influenced by their predominant Roman Catholic faith.
A 2007 joint survey by the respected Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Hispanic Center shows that 65 percent of first-generation U.S. Hispanics believe abortion should be illegal. But among second-generation U.S. Hispanics like Ana, that percentage drops to 43 percent.
The topic of Hispanics and abortion is a timely one as Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, began her Senate confirmation on Monday.
Sotomayor’s position on abortion is not clear, even after groups on both sides of the issue have scrutinized her record and background in search for clues. Sotomayor may be asked directly about her stance at the hearings or through secondary questions like her views on privacy.
Decades after the Supreme Court’s 1973 landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion, the issue is still bitterly divisive and at the forefront of political battles. Knowing how Hispanics view abortion could be key to getting votes from the largest and fastest growing minority group.
A May Gallup poll found that 51 percent of Americans called themselves “pro-life,” or against abortion. But the Pew survey indicates that a higher percentage of Hispanics oppose abortion — 57 percent — or more than any other group.
The second generation, however, is “much, much closer to mainstream American values ... in stark contrast to the first generation who are much more conservative on this issue,” said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum.
The numbers back up the changing view. Hispanics constitute about 15 percent of the U.S. population, but Hispanic women accounted for 22 percent of the 1.2 million U.S. abortions in 2005, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
There are many assumptions on how Latinos feel about abortion, said Silvia Henriquez, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. Polls by her group reveal more tolerance toward it.
“It’s very much ‘Maybe I wouldn’t make that decision myself, but it’s not my place to interfere in someone else’s decision’,” said Henriquez.
Abortion was taboo when Ana was growing up and girls who were rumored to have had one were shamed. In middle school, Ana started thinking differently and cemented her abortion-rights advocacy at Catholic high school. Leaving the New York clinic, she proudly remembered women she knew who made the same choice.
A survey conducted this year in California also reflects a change across generations. The Public Policy Institute of California found that immigrant Latinos and U.S.-born Latinos express nearly opposite views on the role of government in abortion access.
While 62 percent of immigrant Latinos support more abortion restrictions, 65 percent of U.S.-born Latinos believe the government should not interfere.
One factor in the split is that immigrants have come from Latin America where few countries allow abortion, Lugo said. Assimilation also plays a major part, he said.
For the Catholic Church, this is the “bad part of assimilation” and a symptom of growing individualism in American culture, said Father Allan Figueroa Deck, who oversees cultural diversity for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“In Latino culture, there’s a tendency not to act as isolated individuals pursuing their own ends,” Deck said.
“This is a value for us and unfortunately this value is being diminished in the United States,” he added.
Hispanic Protestant evangelicals are a growing group and include many Catholic converts. Their conversion, however, is not to avoid strict abortion beliefs. This group is even more conservative: 77 percent say abortion should be illegal compared with 54 percent of Hispanic Catholics, the Pew Forum said.
Raimundo Rojas, director of Hispanic outreach at the anti-abortion National Right to Life, believes that family unity will keep Hispanics very much in the anti-abortion camp.
“Family is very important to us and Hispanics recognize that an unborn child is already a member of our family,” he said.”
That is what Ines (not her real name) decided when she became pregnant with her fifth child at 29. Her husband had lost his regular job and the family moved into a relative’s living room. So Ines, who immigrated from Mexico in 2000, visited a crisis pregnancy center in Los Angeles, believing it performed abortions.
But instead they showed her an anti-abortion video and she changed her mind.
“We’re very Catholic and we believe that it is a sin,” said Ines. “A child is a blessing from God.”
Ines expects to deliver her baby this month. Meanwhile, Ana wants to have children later and, inspired by Sotomayor, hopes to become a judge.
Editing by Mary Milliken and Philip Barbara