Late last month, voters in Albuquerque New Mexico voted down a municipal ballot measure that would have banned late-term abortions without exception (including incest, fetal abnormalities, rape or threat to the woman’s health). Voter turnout on that day was impressively high for a special election in which parts of the city were voting on nothing but this ballot measure. This is all thanks to the tireless organizing of Respect ABQ, a campaign made up largely of organizations by and for women of color, particularly Latin@s, who make up almost half of the city’s population.
For Tannia Esparza, the Respect ABQ campaign was “the first time we saw so many people of color, students and young people come together.” Esparza is the Executive Director of Young Women United, a community based organizing and policy project run for and by young women of color. With a decade of organizing under their belt, YMU helped to lay a lot of the groundwork for the campaign, working with communities at the intersections of different identities.
According to Esparza, YMU’s success was in the messaging they used. “The mainstream reproductive rights movement for decades has posed the issue of abortion in a very polarizing ‘pro life’ vs. ‘pro choice’ sort of way. We’ve known for a long time that those messages don’t work with our communities, and that they really just isolate people.”
“We took the opportunity to have honest conversations with our families and our communities and really got to the nuances and the complexities of abortion.”
The goal of the campaign was to ensure that voices of color were represented within a reproductive rights movement that has historically excluded them. Oftentimes politicians and reproductive rights activists avoid Latin@ communities, assuming that they are inherently conservative. But according to Esparza, it’s all about how you ask the questions.
“A lot of these issues don’t get talked about in our communities because people assume that our Latin@ families are inherently conservative. But it depends how you ask the questions. ‘Do you think that decisions about abortion should remain with women and families?’ vs. ‘Do you believe that abortion is right?’ can get you very different reactions.
YMU and Respect ABQ made a concerted effort to be honest with the voters they were speaking with, and were pleasantly surprised with the result. During our chat, Esparza noted that the local Spanish language media–which many might stereotype as serving Catholic, and therefore anti-abortion, viewers–was the friendliest news coverage they received during the campaign.
So why was the Respect ABQ campaign important? Well firstly, it proves what studies have been showing: that Latin@s tend to prioritize family over religious doctrine. They also understand the complexities of reproductive justice and abortion in a way that conservative politicians pandering to the “people of color” vote never give them credit for. In fact, in a survey conducted by California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, nearly seven in ten of those surveyed said that “while they might not choose to terminate their pregnancy or their partners’ pregnancy, they would protect that right and not take the decision away from women.”
When Obama was reelected in 2012, I think many of us felt that reproductive rights might finally be safe after months of electoral foolishness from the Romney campaign. Unfortunately, conservative politicians are still working to make abortion all but completely inaccessible, particularly for low-income people and people of color.
With rumors already starting about the next presidential elections, I initially got sick just imagining what the GOP might do this round. However, Respect ABQ has given me hope. The GOP can no longer count on the conservative Latin@ vote–if it ever could. If we are honest with our communities, we can change the narrative around abortion. We can take reproductive health care back into our own hands.
Juliana wishes she could have been in Albuquerque to met Dolores Huerta. She also just had to Google how to spell Albuquerque.