Catholics incensed by Obama's new contraception rule, but Latinos are not

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Latinos at a bilingual church service in Utah.

In recent weeks, Roman Catholic bishops have exerted pressure upon President Obama to repeal his new contraception rule. It requires religious institutions’ medical insurance plans to cover contraception costs for their employees. The Fronteras Desk reports that the Latinos – who represent almost half the Catholics in this country – have not responded the way church leaders had hoped.

As the band warmed up for 7 o’clock Spanish mass at the St. Jude Catholic Church on Sunday evening, 56-year-old Amparo Gonzalez sat in a nearby pew. She was thumbing through this week’s church bulletin, which featured a strongly worded letter from San Diego’s bishop, Robert Brom.

He called the President Obama's contraception rule unjust, and said it violated the conscience of all Catholics.

But, as Gonzalez says, she's been using them for nine years.

"I always took care of myself," Gonzalez explains. "I decided to have three children. And I didn’t say, whatever God would like to give me. No - it’s my body, it’s my decision.”

Not all Catholic Latinas agree. There are women like 39-year-old Dulce Maria Silva, who goes to Our Lady of Grace Church.

“Because my faith is very important, yes, I’m a Latina, but first and foremost, I am Catholic," Silva maintained. "So I do uphold the church’s teachings.”

She said many Catholics treat church like a club, not a faith, and can therefore justify deviating from doctrine.

But polling and data suggest that Silva is actually among the minority of Latinas.

"The reality is that an overwhelming majority of our community uses contraception," says Kimberly Inez-McGuire, a policy analyst for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.

Inez-McGuire is citing findings from a 2010 study by the Center for Disease Control. It found that 97 percent of sexually active Latinas between the ages 15 and 44 had used contraception, including 96 percent of Catholic Latinas.

“It may be that in many cases their church leaders are saying something different," Inez-McGuire explained, "but they feel very comfortable doing what they need to do to take care of their health.”

And that should put the Obama administration - which won close to 70 percent of the Latino vote in 2008 - at ease.

Gary Segura is a Stanford political science professor and principal of the national polling firm Latino Decisions.

"Every poll that we’ve ever done shows that moral issues are not how Latinos vote,” he said

In fact, in those polls, said Segura, no more than 2 percent of Latino respondents have ever listed moral issues like abortion or gay marriage as a primary electoral concern.

"And if they’re not going to vote against Democrats on abortion, they’re sure not going to vote against Democrats on contraception," said Segura.

Latinos’ top concern this election year, according to Segura, is the same as everyone else’s: the economy, followed by immigration, education and healthcare.

That may not be a surprise, given that Latinos have been hit hard by the recession. It’s especially true in working class Latino neighborhoods like San Diego’s Southcrest, where by 7:00 Sunday night, Gonzalez’s church was packed. People stood outside craning their necks to watch through the doors.

"[Contraceptives] not bad," Gonzalez concluded. "What’s bad is bringing a child into the world to suffer, to go hungry and sick, to not get an education. That’s worse. I love God, but it’s also my life. He gave it to me but I make my own decisions." She began to laugh, before adding, "With his consent.”

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