Facing the truth about abortion led Sandoval into three years of drug addiction, homelessness, and anorexia. At her lowest point, she sat on a curb sobbing. She remembers looking up at the sky, recalling her love letters to God and praying. Minutes later, a woman came out of a nearby restaurant, hugging her and telling her about Christ’s love and forgiveness. She gave Sandoval a meal and a ride to her father’s house. Soon after, Sandoval attended a post-abortion healing retreat, where she experienced Christ’s forgiveness. She also made a promise to be a voice for the unborn.
In 2007, Sandoval began telling her story. She has since written a book and shared her testimony more than 400 times across the United States, Europe, and Latin America. Last year, she traveled several times to Argentina and El Salvador and participated in media campaigns as these countries battled attempts to legalize abortion. In January, she’s slated to speak in both Spanish and English at the West Coast Walk for Life in San Francisco.
But Sandoval has paid a price for speaking out. She often has people walk out of her presentations, or call her a murderer. Family members have cut her off, even those who initially encouraged her abortion healing process. Sandoval says, “It is a very shameful thing in Hispanic culture to have an abortion, but it is even more shameful to talk about it. I’m known in my family as the girl who had three abortions.”
For this reason, many Hispanic women stay silent about their abortions, or they only share anonymously. Two post-abortive Hispanic women I interviewed said they have experienced healing and even engage in pro-life activism, but they still have not told family members about their abortions.
Hispanics have long-held cultural and religious opposition to abortion. More than 60 percent of Hispanics, and 54 percent of Latino millennials, think it is “morally wrong,” according to two recent Public Religion Research Institute studies. More than 50 percent think it should be illegal in “all or most cases,” a 2014 Pew Research Center study found.
For this reason, some refer to Hispanics as “the sleeping giant” of the pro-life movement.
But pundits err in referring to Hispanics as a “monolithic voting bloc,” said Tim Edson, the national field director for the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA). In the 2016 elections, SBA successfully targeted Latinos in states like Florida and Arizona with paid advertising and door-to-door campaigning, Edson said. The group surveyed Hispanic voters before and after engagement and saw an 11-point voter preference shift in favor of pro-life candidates in these states.
But in California, even as pro-abortion groups maintain a tight hold on state politics, many see emerging pro-life support, especially in conservative areas like the Central Valley. “The sleeping giant is waking up,” said Samuel Rodriguez, a Sacramento pastor and president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. He predicts, “There’s about to be a significant pushback against California’s abortion-on-demand, and it’s coming from the Hispanic community.”
‘There’s about to be a significant pushback against California’s abortion-on-demand, and it’s coming from the Hispanic community.’ —Samuel Rodriguez
Within the last decade, pro-life groups and crisis pregnancy centers have made a concerted effort to reach Spanish-speaking women. Many now have bilingual staff, “Español” website tabs, and Spanish-language resources. In 2008, a Hispanic pro-life group and Mexican actor Eduardo Verástegui reproduced a widely circulated Spanish video originally made in the late 1980s titled “Dura Realidad,” or “Hard Truth,” which depicts fetal formation and contains graphic abortion images.
Some see a correlation with these efforts and a declining abortion rate among Hispanic women. Between 2007 and 2015, the abortion rate dropped by 30 percent, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But the battle is still raging. In Los Angeles, nine Planned Parenthood centers operate within a 1-mile radius of a predominantly poor Hispanic neighborhood. Astrid Bennett Gutierrez grew up in this neighborhood, and in 2006 she opened the first pro-life clinic within that radius, called Los Angeles Pregnancy Services. She says the abortion industry “targets poor, vulnerable Latino women who feel pressured and shamed into abortion.” Gutierrez has become a key Latino pro-life voice, speaking regularly on the Catholic television network EWTN and at pro-life gatherings.
Two years ago, Gutierrez launched the Vida Initiative outreach. The group is targeting second- or third-generation Hispanic millennials with pro-life messaging, mentoring, and workshops on public speaking and sidewalk counseling. Gutierrez said the greatest challenge is “undoing the indoctrination that happens in schools and in mainstream media.”
Much of California’s Hispanic population lives within the Central Valley’s 450-mile stretch of flat and agriculture-rich land. In Visalia, one of the valley’s major farming outposts, Maricela Lupercio, 36, runs Latinos4Life, a Hispanic outreach of the Tulare-Kings [Counties] Right to Life (TKRL), with the goal of helping families “communicate about important topics like dating, sex and abortion.”