The Sleeping Giant of Pro-Life Latinos Awakens

Hispanics, whose communities are hard hit by abortion, are beginning to make their voices heard in a pro-life movement that has largely been English-speaking.

Edyth Triana (top left), with other Latina pro-life activists holding their rosaries in front of the Birmingham Planned Parenthood abortion facility.
Edyth Triana (top left), with other Latina pro-life activists holding their rosaries in front of the Birmingham Planned Parenthood abortion facility. (photo: Mary Ann Vann)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — When Edyth Triana first decided to go to the Planned Parenthood in Birmingham, Ala., she had trouble finding the building. She and her friend asked an old man in the community for directions, but he did not tell the Latina women where the abortion facility was — that is, until Triana told him why they wanted to go there.

“We explained to him that we had children, and we were coming to this place to pray to stop abortion,” she said.

After that, the old man pointed them in the right direction — just three minutes away in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood.

“After that day, I felt in my heart, and my children did, too — and I think for all the persons who came there — that our lives had changed,” she said.

More than a year later, Triana, now a sidewalk counselor, was again standing outside the Planned Parenthood in Birmingham on Jan. 16, with Anglo and Latino pro-life advocates and sidewalk counselors. But this time they weren’t just praying or counseling women; instead, they were celebrating the facility’s apparent closure. The abortion business’ closure through the month of January makes Birmingham the largest U.S. metro area that is abortion-free.

Triana and fellow Latinos were by far the largest single group that celebrated the facility’s closure, shouting “Viva la familia” (Long live the family) and “Viva Cristo Rey!” (Long live Christ the King), according to pro-life sidewalk counselor Janice Nelson.

Planned Parenthood in Birmingham’s closure was “a big miracle,” said Triana, which has given her community “such a big spiritual joy.”

“We keep praying that this won’t be temporary, but will be forever,” she said.


40 Days for Life

Triana is a relatively new pro-life leader for Birmingham’s Hispanic community. She started praying for the victims of abortion when she read a 40 Days for Life poster posted at her church (in English), but a friend who came back from a Hispanic pro-life congress convinced her to go and pray in front of the abortion facility.

“I used to pray all the time to stop abortion, but I never felt the commitment as when I was outside the Planned Parenthood,” she said. She soon found new and supportive friends in Birmingham’s (largely Anglo) pro-life community.

Triana sees the Planned Parenthood’s closing as a sign from God and Our Lady of Guadalupe not to stop, but to do more.

“This is God telling us, ‘Don’t stop. Keep going in your pro-life ministry!’” she said.

But she also represents the growing number of Latino pro-life leaders who have become aware that abortion poses a lethal threat not only to their children’s lives, but also to their Hispanic values and identity.

“In the United States today, if you go by the actual numbers, the most dangerous place for a Latina is in her mother’s womb,” said Raimundo Rojas, director of Latino outreach for the National Right to Life Committee. “That’s a fact.”

The Abortion Surveillance Data from the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows Hispanic women accounted for 21% of abortions in 2010, and the abortion ratio increased 8% for Hispanics between 2007 and 2010 to 221 abortions for 1,000 live births. The numbers could be even higher, since the CDC report lacks data from California.

According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll, 50% of Hispanics say abortion should be illegal, while 46% of Hispanics say abortion should generally be legal. In contrast, non-Hispanics were shown to favor abortion 57% to 40%.

Rojas said that most Hispanics come from countries with pro-life cultures and pro-life laws on the books.

“We care for our elderly, we keep our abuelos [grandparents] at home, and we protect our kids,” he said. “Unfortunately, when Latinos come to this country, Planned Parenthood has a very strategic plan to target our communities.”

The telenovella East Los High is an excellent example. The HULU television series is aimed at Latino teens, but Planned Parenthood has a significant role in crafting the show’s message on sex, contraception and abortion.

Rojas said, “Unless we do our job in the right-to-life movement, we lose Hispanics to the pro-abortion mindset.”

He added the critical task is to remind Hispanics of their pro-life culture and that they must connect their values to their votes. He added that getting Hispanic communities to break the silence over sex and abortionn is key, especially between parents and children, if they were going to retain their pro-life culture.


Need for Greater Integration

This year’s annual March for Life in Washington marks a new advance in the recent efforts to integrate Latinos closer into the pro-life community and promote Latino pro-life activism in their home communities.

This year, pro-life advocates under the banner of Latinos Por Vida (Latinos for Life) sponsored the first Spanish-language pre-march rally Uniendo Nuestras Voces (Uniting Our Voices) at Harris Theatre at George Mason University. Yesterday’s rally invited Latinos to integrate themselves into the pro-life movement and engage in pro-life activism.

“What we are saying is that part of being Hispanic is to be pro-family and pro-life,” said Father Agustin Torres, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal and spokesman for Latinos for Life. “We really want to underscore that.”

Father Torres said the key challenge is to create “a bridge” between the growing Latino community and the broader pro-life movement. He said the march will take a major step forward in building that bridge with a dynamic young Latina speaker, who will address the crowds in both Spanish and English.

“Here is the beautiful thing: There are so many more who are up-and-coming leaders,” he said, explaining that the group is building a network to integrate them into the pro-life movement. “One of the things that we want to do is to be that connection, where if somebody is looking for a speaker (in whatever language), they will have a connection through Latinos Por La Vida.

Both the priest and Rojas said the biggest encouraging sign was the tens of thousands of Latinos coming to Wednesday’s March for Life, despite the cold and snow. Father Torres said this witness will also have an impact on Latino communities in the United States, but also on all of Latin America paying attention.


The Difference a Life Makes

The national March for Life has already made its mark in Birmingham. Triana said one of the Latina women celebrating the closing of Planned Parenthood with other pro-life advocates had her 6-month-old baby with her. But that baby might not have been there had the woman’s 16-year-old son not attended the 2013 March for Life with the local church youth group.

“When he came back, he was helping his mom, telling her, ‘Mom, I’m pro-life; please don’t think about abortion,’” Triana said.

Thanks to this young Latino’s “great witness,” and the support of her community, Triana said the mother not only found the courage to keep her baby, but also now attends church every Sunday and had her daughters receive first Communion.

The baby’s mom is “so thankful to God” for sending people in her life to encourage her to keep her baby, Triana said. She now shares her testimony with other women who think abortion “is the only thing they can do, but it’s the worst thing they could do.”

“She now tells people, ‘I just wanted to do an abortion, but I didn’t, and, now, here is my baby!’” Triana said.

When all is said and done, this Latina baby may be the best reason why Triana and other Hispanics are committing themselves to pro-life action.

“This beautiful girl: She is always smiling at us,” Triana said. “Her eyes tell us, ‘Thank you,’ and give you peace. It is something you just really feel in your heart.”

Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff writer.