(RNS) – Catholicism will always be a part of Leonor Villanueva’s life, even though she stopped regularly attending Mass when her parish began hosting anti-abortion speakers towards the end of the service.
Villanueva recites Catholic prayers and honors family celebrations like baptisms and quinceañeras. And she still considers herself Catholic, even though she disagrees with Catholic teaching on abortion and homosexuality.
“I can still have my faith without listening to what the church says,” said Villanueva, 46, a Mexican-American from Central Valley, California.
Villanueva is far from alone.
With Roe v. Wade quashed, new data from the Washington, DC-based Public Religion Research Institute found that among Latino Catholics, 75% say abortion should be legal in most or all cases. That’s a big jump from the 51% who said so in 2010.
RELATED: Poll: After Roe, white evangelicals stay away from abortion laws
In contrast, a quarter of white evangelicals support legal abortion after the Roe reversal. Almost all white evangelical respondents said they would like to see abortion banned after 15 weeks, and more than half said providing an abortion should be a crime.
The survey found that Catholic, Black Protestant, non-Christian and unaffiliated Americans are more supportive of abortion rights than white evangelicals. Latino Catholics (13%) were among the religious groups least likely to say they turn to religious leaders for advice on abortion. That’s compared to the 38% of white evangelicals who do. The survey also found that 32% of Latino Catholics said their religious faith dictated their views on abortion, compared to 73% of white evangelical Protestants.
The survey of 2,038 Americans, which used Ipsos’ online panel, was conducted June 24-26 and was fielded just after the announcement of the Dobbs decision, which overturned Roe. It included 241 Latinos, 104 of whom identified as Catholic. The goal was to get an immediate response from the public.
PRRI executive director Melissa Deckman said Latino Catholics are very much aligned with other religious people of color in their support for abortion rights.
For Deckman, it should be noted that Latino Catholics have become even more supportive of abortion rights than white Catholics. Of the white Catholic survey participants, 62% said they opposed the Supreme Court striking down Roe. That’s compared to 72% of Latino Catholics who said the same.
“We know that age is a big differentiator when it comes to attitudes toward abortion for Americans in general, but I definitely think it helps build support for abortion among Latinos,” Deckman said.
“We now have a situation where abortion is no longer a constitutional right, and access to abortion care is becoming more limited in many areas,” Deckman added. “I think it’s led young people to become more supportive of abortion rights in general.”
In Kansas state, Alejandro Rangel-Lopez, a 21-year-old Mexican-born Catholic, is helping lead the New Frontiers youth effort to encourage Latinos to vote out a amendment this would remove the right to abortion from the state constitution. The group held Western-themed “Let’s Ban Our Boots” rallies in support of abortion rights and encouraged people to register to vote in the Aug. 2 primary. Rangel-Lopez said he also convinced his father to vote against the amendment.
Rangel-Lopez, who identifies as gay and has the Virgin of Guadalupe tattooed on his thigh, was raised Catholic by his “very” religious and spiritual parents. They often attended mass when he was younger, but also frequently practiced popular Catholicism, using a mixture of charcoal and copal to cleanse their home of bad energy.
He has since embraced popular Catholic traditions rather than being an active church member, but said he always finds guidance in Roman Catholic doctrine.
“I learned the importance of being a humble servant to those around you and using whatever tools God has given you to raise the voice of your neighbors in need,” he said.
RELATED: Catholics for Choice seeks to reach more Latinos with new Spanish-language platforms
For Jennifer Hughes, a professor at the University of California, Riverside who focuses on the history of Latin American and Latin American religions, these new data help highlight just how much Latin American Catholics constitute a “group increasingly important political demographic”.
The survey results, Hughes said, “challenge these stereotypes about who Latinos and Latino Catholics are.”
Hughes notes that Catholics “struggle with this complicated, sometimes very contradictory tradition, and figure out what makes sense to them.”
Just because some Catholics have a strong devotional practice of the Rosary, altars, the Virgin of Guadalupe, or other religious images, “it doesn’t mean your politics are conservative.”
Lucero, a Mexican-American Catholic in her 20s from Minnesota, attends Mass weekly and also attends worship alone. She prays the Rosary and listens to the “Bible in a Year” podcast with Fr. Mike Schmitz. She also supports access to abortion and birth control. Lucero did not want his full name released for privacy reasons.
She finds it ironic that the Catholic clergy – who cannot marry or have sex – dictate church policy on sex, pregnancy and marriage. She wants to see abortion rates drop, but says policies that support families work better than bans.
“I want to see more of us live taking care of people who were born, not just those who weren’t born,” Lucero said.
RELATED: Latino Protestants are more conservative and supportive of Trump than Latino Catholics, poll finds
Laura Fernandez, 27, thinks of her Colombian Catholic mother “who used to shudder at the thought of abortion” but “calmed down” over the years.
Fernandez, from Cleveland, Ohio, tells her mother anonymous stories of people she knows who have had abortions and whose “lives have changed for the better.” While her mother “doesn’t like the idea of abortion”, she feels lucky to have a “mum who listens to me and is critical of herself”.
Fernandez said it was perplexing for his mother to see a church friend supporting Donald Trump solely for his stance against abortion. “My mom didn’t get it because of everything Trump was, and I think that planted a seed in her,” Fernandez said.
For Fernandez, Latinos “hated Trump so much” that he “kind of caused a change.”
“I feel like people thought if the right was pushing this issue (of abortion) so hard, then they didn’t want to be associated with it,” she said.
Samuel Hernandez, 32, of Rockland County in New York, agrees. Hernandez, who is Mexican-American and “concerned about social justice with regard to my Catholic faith,” supports access to abortion and is passionate about immigrant rights.
A former Catholic Charities employee, Hernandez, who is married with two children, said it was frustrating to receive emails from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Archdiocese of New York discussing the “ills of abortion” and emphasizing “their own feelings about trying to overthrow Roe.
“There’s too much emphasis on abortion over other social justice issues…like poverty and food insecurity and things that might also help ease the stress of pregnancy, pregnancies unwanted,” said Hernandez, a native of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. .
Rosey Abuabara, 57, of San Antonio, Texas, grew up Catholic and said her mother tried to have an abortion while she was pregnant with her. Abuabara, the youngest of five siblings, said her mother feared the family would not be able to support another child. She said her mother unsuccessfully tried to terminate her early pregnancy through plants and herbs to induce an abortion.
Abuabara, who is of Mexican descent, said she supported abortion because she “saw with her own eyes how poor we were”.
“I would see my mother not having dinner at night,” Abuabara said. “The worst thing you can do is watch your kids starve or your kids sick and not be able to get health care.”
Abuabara identified himself as an agnostic. Lately, she has turned to Catholicism to deal with recent tragedies in her home country: mass shooting in Uvalde who killed 19 students and two teachers and the death of 53 migrants who were found in a stuffy tractor-trailer in southwest San Antonio.
She said she didn’t leave the church or the creed entirely.
“Sometimes I just need to turn to God to find some peace and strength,” she said.
National reporter Bob Smietana contributed to this report.