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Jessica Kourkounis/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/KRT/Newscom

American girls

Abortion Present | When it comes to abortion, some Hispanics are becoming a bit too assimilated

Issue: "Millions cut down," Jan. 17, 2009

It was late November when Angel and her boyfriend visited Silent Voices, a pro-life pregnancy resource center (PRC) in Chula Vista, Calif. Angel's menstrual cycle was also late. It wasn't the first time.

The sexually active 17-year-old Latina had stopped in at Silent Voices five or six times since 2004 to take a free pregnancy test. Over the years, said Sharon Pearce, the center's executive director, Angel revealed herself bit by bit. From her perfect French manicure to her designer handbag and jeans, it was clear that her family had money. When she wanted a certain kind of car for her 16th birthday, she told Pearce one day, it appeared in the family's garage, right on time.

Each time Angel took a pregnancy test, it came back negative. Until November. When she saw the double lines indicating she was carrying a child, she said, "I don't want to have a baby, so I shouldn't have to."

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On her intake form, Angel had marked that if she was pregnant she would have an abortion.

Culturally, Angel cuts against the grain of traditional Hispanic thinking on abortion. For 19 years, Silent Voices has operated in Chula Vista, about five miles north of the Mexican border. Ninety percent of its clients are Latinas. The majority come from Catholic homes and attend churches whose official writings define abortion as a "grave moral disorder" on par with murder.

In general, "Hispanic women are not abortion-minded," said Pearce.

Liz Dubenetzky, who heads Life Choices, a PRC about 30 minutes from the Mexican border in Poway, Calif., agrees. About half of Dubenetzky's clients are Hispanic. "When they come to us and realize there is help available, we have very, very few Hispanic women choose abortion," she said. "They want to choose life."

But there is a dividing line. Second- or third-generation Latinas like Angel, who come from intact families with solid bank accounts, who are college-bound and career-oriented, are more likely to choose abortion.

Nearly two decades ago, Hispanic pro-life activists predicted this change: As Hispanic women and girls became more "Americanized," the activists said, some would shed the traditional values of their immigrant families and embrace abortion. It's the opposite of a commonly heard concern about some immigrants not sharing American values; here, some American values are the problem.

By 2005, the pro-abortion National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) was reporting that "immigrant Latinas, especially youth, tend to be less sexually active than acculturated Latinas. Acculturation is the process of entering another society, and acquiring a new language, cultural practices, and/or values. . . . Pregnant immigrant Latinas are . . . less likely to choose abortion than native-born Latinas and white teens."

NLIRH's report also sounded a note of pro-abortion hope: "Polling suggests that Latinas' views about abortion liberalize over generations and with higher levels of education. Thus over time . . . Latina immigrants may be more likely to support legalized abortion."

The Guttmacher Institute, formerly the research arm of Planned Parenthood, reports that in 2004 there were 10.5 abortions per 1,000 non-Hispanic white women ages 15 to 44, compared with 28 per 1,000 Hispanic women in the same age group.

Acculturation may explain in part the contrast between those numbers and PRC directors' long experience with Hispanic women's abortion inclinations. Another factor may be the location of help available to Latinas in crisis pregnancies. According to the Virginia-based PRC network Care Net, abortion businesses in minority-dominated communities outnumber pregnancy centers by a ratio of at least 5 to 1.

Even in metro areas with a vibrant pro-life presence, Latinas' abortion decisions may come down to marketing. Both Silent Voices and Life Choices are located in heavily evangelical San Diego County, but Dubenetzky noted that "a lot of Hispanic women bypass us because they know about Planned Parenthood and don't know about us. If we could match even penny to dollar what Planned Parenthood has in terms of marketing, it could make a huge impact."

And even when Latinas visit the PRC, sometimes they choose abortion. As of Dec. 20, the PRC had no news that Angel had changed her mind.

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