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Sotomayor: Roe v. Wade and the Right to Privacy

New America Media, Commentary, Silvia Henriquez Posted: Aug 06, 2009

Editor's Note: Sotomayors ethnicity does not determine her position on Roe v. Wade, writes Silvia Henriquez, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

Over the last 50 years, the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court have played an essential role in protecting the rights of individuals, especially women and people of color. From employment discrimination to access to education, the decisions made in that hallowed judicial courtroom have given a voice to those who are disenfranchised and have empowered generations.

But from where I stand, perhaps no Supreme Court decision has had a more far-reaching impact than Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision protecting the right to privacy and legalizing abortion. As the head of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), the nations leading voice on Latina reproductive health and justice, I have seen how the decision in this case has enabled Latinas and their families to make personal health care decisions without government intrusion. The right to an abortion represents more than just a right to privacy as protected by our constitution. It gives women the ability to take control over thier future, destiny and family formation. By deciding when and if we have children, we can make decisions about our careers, educational opportunities and life choices.

Roe v. Wade was a turning point for women and families. However, the debate about abortion did not end with this decision. In fact, the right to an abortion has been eroded to the point where, unless you have private insurance that covers this procedure, or are a woman with financial means, you may struggle to get the procedure. Therefore, the choice to have an abortion is only a reality for those who can pay for it. Beyond the politicized debates and name calling in the war on choice, the truth is that in countries around the world, women struggle for basic human rights and access to safe health care, including abortion. The commitment to precedent and judicial philosophy of the men and women who sit on the Supreme Court is imperative to protecting this right and ensuring that Roe v. Wade does not get overturned.

Latinas and abortion rights

As the only national Latina-focused organization that openly supports the right to abortion, we have learned that Latinos are a diverse community and that we are not either pro-choice or pro-life. That dichotomous language does not resonate in the Latina community, and in fact, the term pro-choice does not even have a direct translation in the Spanish language. Efforts to poll our community have been met with varying results. A recent poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, along with the Pew Hispanic Center, shows that among first-generation U.S. Hispanics, 65 percent believe abortion should be illegal, while only 43 percent of second-generation U.S. Hispanics share the same belief.

Additionally, a recent poll done in California by the Public Policy Institute of California shows that 55 percent of Latinos oppose overturning Roe v. Wade, and a large percentage are also opposed to any restrictions on abortion rights. The same poll also demonstrated differences in attitudes about abortion based upon where they were born. Nearly seven in 10 U.S.-born Latinos do not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned, whereas foreign-born immigrant Latinos are more closely divided at approximately five in 10 (48 percent do not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned, where 45 percent would like to see it overturned). This is just a small sampling of Latino attitudes and we still have much to learn about the diversity of perspectives in our community. However, we do know that access to comprehensive health care is critical.

Over the past seven years, our organizing work with communities around the country has taught us that while many Latinas feel that they may not have an abortion themselves, they want every woman to make that decision for herself. For immigrant Latinas who come from countries in which abortion is illegal or severely restricted, they have personally encountered the dangers of restricting abortion rights. Clandestine abortions that are all too common in Latin America have led to the physical harm or death of many women in their community who were desperate to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. While many immigrant Latinas recognize their own ambivalence about the procedure, many do not want to take away the right to an abortion from someone else. NLIRH frames access to abortion and reproductive health care as a social justice issue, a sentiment that resonates in the Latina community. Values of justice and dignity are rooted in family and community and Latinas certainly want the best in life for their children. With a population over 46 million, we are the fastest-growing minority in the United States. It is our job as Latina reproductive health care advocates to turn the political tide so that womens ability to make private health care decisions is not in the hands of politicians but in the hands of our families and communities.

The wide diversity of Latino attitudes on abortion tells us that Judge Sotomayors ethnicity does not determine her position on Roe v. Wade. What we do know is that even though Judge Sotomayors experience and record have not directly dealt with protecting a womans right to choose, she has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to justice, fidelity to legal precedent and utmost respect for the law throughout her career. In her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings, she made clear that her future decisions would be bound by legal precedent and clearly articulated her respect for the law established in Roe v. Wade. Judge Sotomayors statements were extremely promising indicators of her commitment to womens reproductive rights.

That is why the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, our board and staff, stands in solidarity with Judge Sotomayor as she faces the full Senate confirmation vote. Unlike previous Supreme Court confirmation hearings, we may not have heard this nominee speak forcefully or at great length on the legality and future of Roe v. Wade at the hearings. But we believe it is through her measured statements that she demonstrated her commitment to the law. NLIRH is confident in her determination to protect a womans right to choose and to uphold the values of our families and communities.

Related Articles:

Sonia Sotomayor and the Rise of the Ghetto Nerds

Sotomayor Nomination Advances

Latinos Have a Stake in Health Care Reform

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