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Survey tracks blacks, Hispanics on morality, legality of abortion

Published: Saturday, July 28 2012 11:20 p.m. MDT

In this Monday, Jan. 24, 2011 file picture, anti-abortion and pro-choice activists stand next to each other in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington during a rally on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision.

Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press

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Most blacks believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases, even if they don't approve of abortion or believe it's immoral. Hispanic Americans are less likely to see morality and legality as separate issues, says a report released last week by the Public Religion Research Institute.

The study was a follow up to last year's survey on religion and abortion.

"The goal of this study was to have large enough sample sizes of Hispanics and African Americans to examine the religious, political and demographic differences among these groups that is generally not possible in national surveys," Daniel Cox, research director, told the Deseret News. The institute said it's the most comprehensive public opinion survey on abortion and religion among the two demographics and included more than 800 interviews each with black Americans and with Hispanic Americans, bolstered by focus groups.

Nearly four out of five blacks say it is possible to disagree with their church's teachings on abortion and still be considered a good Catholic/Christian, a number that drops to three out of five among Hispanic Americans.

Still the economy

Among both the blacks and Hispanics polled, the economy and education were seen as the leading critical issues facing America, followed by the federal deficit and the growing gap between rich and poor. Hispanics listed immigration as the third-most-critical challenge, while blacks ranked it fifth.

Neither abortion nor same-sex marriage was a top-five issue for those surveyed.

The poll showed differences of opinion between the two groups on whether abortion should be legal. Among blacks, two-thirds said it should be legal in most or all cases, compared to 51 percent of Hispanic American who said it should be illegal. But 51 percent of blacks view abortion as morally wrong, as do 61 percent of Hispanic Americans.

In both groups, predictors of opposing abortion include being a born-again/evangelical Christian, regular church attendance, not having graduated from high school and lack of a close relative or friend who has had an abortion. The biggest single predictor of opinion among black Americans on abortion legality is the level of education. Other factors that predict opposition include a high degree of religious belief and believing the Bible is the literal word of God. The biggest predictors for Hispanics are political ideology and being a born-again or evangelical Christian. Besides those shared by the two demographics, other factors predicting anti-abortion sentiment for Hispanics were being younger than 65, belief in a personal God, being a first-generation immigrant and being Catholic.

Both groups by at least two-thirds majority said "not judging other people" and "showing compassion for women in difficult circumstances" are key to their views on abortion.

While religion helps shape opinion on abortion for both groups, Cox said, "the messages that both groups receive from clergy are less consequential than other religious factors, like identifying as an evangelical Christian."

Up for a vote

The report also included a "context" section that helped frame the discussion in terms of the upcoming presidential election. It noted that 87 percent of black voters and 58 percent of Hispanic voters would support Barack Obama for president over Mitt Romney. In both demographics, 10 percent are undecided. The Hispanic vote changes, however, when the specific religion is considered. Of Catholic Hispanics, 64 percent support Obama compared to 50 percent of Protestant Hispanics. And 9 and 8 percent, respectively, are undecided.

It is unlikely that opinions on these issues will play a huge role in how either black Americans or Hispanic Americans vote this fall, Cox told the Washington Post. "Obama has a significant advantage over Romney among both African-Americans and Hispanics, and neither candidate's views on these questions will likely have much effect on their support."

That resonates with Carla Perez, a temporarily harried Hispanic mom who on Friday was trying to get a head start on school shopping for her two daughters at The Gateway mall in downtown Salt Lake. "For me, right now, it's the economy," she said. "I think people make the choices that are right for them, they do the best they can. But what is hurting most of us right now is unemployment, taxes and uncertainty. I will vote this time on the economy."

Other issues

The survey found especially strong support for expanding access to birth control for women who cannot afford it, with 92 percent of blacks in support and 85 percent of Hispanics. By smaller margins, they say religiously affiliated hospitals should provide birth control to employees (61 percent for blacks, 64 percent for Hispanics). A small majority believe teenagers 16 and older should have methods of birth control "generally available."

Fewer than half of either blacks or Hispanics support an abortion option driven by the fact the family is low-income and can't afford more children, the mother is still in high school or she is not married and does not want to marry the man. But abortion is acceptable to the majority of both groups if the woman is pregnant because of rape or if there's a strong chance of a serious defect in the baby.

Last year's survey found that Americans as a whole frequently identify as both pro-life and pro-choice. That finding is true of both groups in the new survey, as well. Seventy-seven percent of Hispanics and 71 percent of black Americans said pro-life describes them somewhat or very well, while 75 percent of black Americans and 72 percent of the Hispanic Americans said pro-choice describes them very well.

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com Twitter: Loisco

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