Women of Color Won the Election for Obama-- And They Protected Reproductive Health
On election night, Latinas and other women of color played an historic role in deciding the future of our country by helping President Obama secure the White House and blocking state-level attempts to curb rights, including reproductive rights. Over and over again, in state after state, Latina and women of color voters provided the winning margin: 76 percent of Latinas and 96 of black women voted for Obama, and Asian voters chose Obama at even higher rates than Latino/as. It’s no accident that women of color chose a president that has taken strong positions in support of health care access, support for a woman’s reproductive decision-making, and equal pay, key issues for this constituency.
We have long known that Latinas, and other women of color, are poderosa and a constituency that can move elections. This week, we proved that by defeating attacks on insurance coverage for abortion, supporting the rights of our LGBTQ hermanos/as, casting deciding votes in battleground states and, across the country, raising our voices. Policy makers in state houses and on Capitol Hill now know that they ignore our concerns at the peril of their own re-election.
On Wednesday morning, one truth was crystal clear: a new American majority, made of people of color, single women, young people (a high percentage, and growing, of which are Latino/a) and LGTBQ Americans turned out to vote and fueled election-night victories.
Take for example, Florida, where anti-choice politicians and opponents of reproductive justice have continued to pursue restrictions of women’s health care. The latest attack was Amendment 6, a ballot measure that would have further restricted insurance coverage for abortion and interfered with personal decision-making. There was simply no denying this amendment would take away a woman’s right to make basic health care decisions that affect her health and the health of her family. In the weeks and months before the election, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), my organization, worked to educate and mobilize Latino/a voters in Florida to oppose this measure.
In partnership with the Miami Latina health organization Mi Lola, NLIRH developed and distributed bilingual voter-education materials, phoned Latino/as to talk about the harms of voting “yes” on Amendment 6, and encouraged Latino/as to register to vote. Latinas secured a significant victory when the hard work paid off and the measure was defeated.
This election, Latinas also used the ballot box to reject false, outdated narratives that we’re socially conservative. For years this narrative has persisted in the media. Yet, polling from NLIRH, in partnership with Lake Research Partners, shows that Latinos and Latinas don’t want politicians interfering with a woman’s right to make decisions. In the poll, nearly three out of four Latino registered voters agreed that a woman has a right to make her own personal, private decisions about abortion without politicians interfering, and nearly as many agreed that we shouldn’t judge someone who feels they are not ready to be a parent. Other polls show that a majority of Latino/as support marriage equality, and are more supportive than their white counterparts.
And those views were apparent at the ballot boxes on Tuesday in key battleground states, like Virginia, where Latina/os favored candidates who pledged to support polices that protect women’s reproductive decision-making and helping pro-choice candidates go on to victory. Latino/as across the country. Latinas across the country joined successful efforts to expand marriage equality, and young Latina advocates, like NLIRH volunteer, columnist, and immigration reform leader Angy Rivera, led the Maryland state DREAM Act to victory, paving the way for similar measures across the country. Latino/as supported President Obama, and his historic health care gains, by more than 70 percent. That’s the largest margin among Latino/as in history, and concern about the Ryan budget and proposed cuts to healthcare helped motivate Latino/as to vote, according to Latino Decisions.
This polling tells me what I know from personal experience: many of my own friends and family voted in this election to support reproductive justice, LGBTQ rights, and access to quality affordable health care. The myth that Latinos are less engaged or single-issue voters is finally giving way to reality. We vote our values: and our values support our diverse families and health, dignity and justice for ourselves, our loved ones and our communities.
Sadly, despite the best efforts of women of color, especially Latinas and Asian American and Pacific Islanders in Arizona, some anti-immigration candidates managed to win. Latino/a advocates led a groundswell of protest against the infamous Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who’s become known for his harsh, hurtful, inhumane rhetoric about immigrants. Thus far, Arpaio has narrowly retained his seat (votes are still being counted), but immigrant activists have successfully forced the sheriff into his toughest re-election battle, putting other candidates on notice that people of color will not remain silent when our brothers and sisters are abused.
This election was a turning point in our power — policy makers can no longer doubt it. Our job, and the job of other organizations who represent women of color, is to work together with the President and other policymakers to hold them accountable to their promises, find solutions that make quality, affordable health care more accessible for women of color, protect the rights of immigrants and ensure that every woman has access to the reproductive health care she needs.
Jessica González-Rojas is the executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.