What better way to ring in Hispanic Heritage Month than hearing Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney repeatedlysay he wishes he were Latino?
Does Mr. Romney want to be Latino because we have a fantastic, layered culture? Or has his time on the political trail made him want to personally understand our experiences as first, second or third-generation Americans? No. In fact Mr. Romney's declaration -- most recently during a Univision interview -- was purely political. Because he knows that Latinos will help determine the next president.
Here's a newsflash, Mr. Romney -- Latinos look for more than a familiar name when they go to the voting booth. As a candidate, your stance on health care -- an issue Latinos regularly rank as one of the most important when they vote -- is so off-putting that no matter your heritage, Latinos cannot in good conscience vote for you.
Over 52 million Latinos live in the United States. But despite our large number, we face persistent barriers to health care. One-quarter of Latinos live in poverty and nearly one-third lack health insurance. As a result, we suffer disproportionate health problems -- we are more likely to die from cervical and breast cancer; our HIV and unintended pregnancy rates are some of the highest in the nation; and we increasingly struggle withobesity in our community.
We know that to start addressing these daunting health issues, we need access to quality health care. With a second term for the Obama administration, however, we have great hope that more Latinos will gain insurance and the doors to more affordable health centers that provide quality care will be open. But a Romney presidency poses the opposite scenario -- Latinos will face even greater obstacles to accessing quality health care.
For Latinos, the Affordable Care Act has been a source of great hope. Under President Obama's sterling health law, nearly six million Latinos are poised to gain insurance coverage. Mr. Romney of course wants to repeal the law, ignoring the needs of our parents, grandparents, and our own children, who stand to benefit from it.
Perhaps Mr. Romney sees the Affordable Care Act as just another way that 47 percent of Americans will continue to feel "entitled to health care, to food, to housing," as he said recently. But for an uninsured family where parents work, health options are bleak without the transformative Affordable Care Act -- it's back to struggling to pay for an entire doctor visit out of pocket or only seeking out health care in emergency rooms. Doctors visits, prescription drugs, preventive checkups will finally be affordable under the law.This isn't a sense of entitlement -- this is what we've worked for, what we've earned -- affordable health care.
A Romney presidency also threatens one of Latinos' most trusted health care providers. Planned Parenthood health centers' doors are always open -- no matter a patient's immigration statusor lack of health insurance. For many Latinos, Planned Parenthood is the only health care provider they'll see all year for breast exams, lifesaving cancer screenings, birth control and STD tests. In fact, nearly one-quarter of patients Planned Parenthood health centers see are Latino.And the Planned Parenthoodpromotores program goes door to door in the Latino community, helping to navigate the health care system and educate about health concerns. So when Mr. Romney talks about how he would "get rid of" Planned Parenthood, he's effectively threatening to cut off the only source of health care and health care information for many in our community.
Mr. Romney's startling statements stand in stark contrast to President Obama's. During the Obama presidency, Planned Parenthood has had a strong ally in the White House--the president refused to cut Planned Parenthood's funding during budget negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner. On the campaign trail, the president has repeatedly stated his support for Planned Parenthood--because he knows that nearly three million men and women each year rely on Planned Parenthood health centers for their basic care.
Latinos are supporting President Obama this Election Day because he genuinely understands that Latinos need affordable health care and that many Latinos rely on Planned Parenthood for that. He understands one of the greatest concerns in our community.
Latinos will continue to take control of our lives by voting this election -- in unprecedented numbers. Since the 2008 election, two million more Latinos have registered to vote. And in January, Planned Parenthood Action Fund launched Latinas are Watching to engage and educate Hispanic voters across the country about which candidates are looking out for their health care.
Just so we're clear, Mr. Romney, it's not your lack of a Latino surname or heritage that has you 53 points behind the president among Latinas, it's your lack of understanding and knowledge about the needs of our community.