Capturing compassion: A survey of Mexican Catholics assessing abortion support by reason for abortion and degree of Catholicism



      No standard exists to measure religiosity in abortion studies. We test whether religiosity is associated with support for abortion among Mexican Catholics and whether different measures of degree of Catholicism alter the relationship.

      Study design

      We conducted a nationally representative cross-sectional study using survey data from 2669 self-identified Mexican Catholics (response rate 85%). Our three outcomes were 1) overall support for legal abortion and support for abortion under exceptions, grouped as having 2) traditionally high agreement (rape, life) and 3) low agreement (on demand, socioeconomic). We used logistic regression controlling for sociodemographic covariates to test the association of four measures of Catholicism with our outcomes.


      The majority of Mexican Catholics support abortion in some circumstances. (90% at least one high agreement exception and 40% at least one low agreement exception). The only measure of degree of Catholicism significantly associated with all our outcomes was belief that a person who helps someone who aborts can be a good Catholic. Those who agreed (versus not) had higher odds of support for abortion for both high agreement (aOR 3.6 [95% CI: 1.7–7.9]) and low agreement (aOR 1.9 [95% CI: 1.3–2.7]) exceptions. Respondents who believe a woman who aborts does not need to confess (aOR 2.1 [95% CI: 1.5–2.8]) or needs to confess to God (aOR 1.4 [95% CI: 1.04–1.8]) versus a priest had higher odds of agreement with at least one low agreement exception.


      Opinion toward abortion among Mexican Catholics is diverse. More nuanced measures of Catholicism are valuable in assessing support for abortion, especially exceptions with low support.


      The main reasons women need abortion are precisely those with low support among Mexican Catholics. Focusing on nuanced measures of Catholicism can help us identify areas for shared values and frame messaging to meet the diversity of Catholic opinion. Catholicism is not an unsurmountable barrier to liberalization of abortion law.


      To read this article in full you will need to make a payment

      Purchase one-time access:

      Academic & Personal: 24 hour online accessCorporate R&D Professionals: 24 hour online access
      One-time access price info
      • For academic or personal research use, select 'Academic and Personal'
      • For corporate R&D use, select 'Corporate R&D Professionals'


      Subscribe to Contraception
      Already a print subscriber? Claim online access
      Already an online subscriber? Sign in
      Institutional Access: Sign in to ScienceDirect


        • Sedgh G.
        • Bearak J.
        • Singh S.
        • Bankole A.
        • Popinchalk A.
        • Ganatra B.
        • et al.
        Abortion incidence between 1990 and 2014: global, regional, and subregional levels and trends.
        Lancet. 2016; 388: 258-267
        • Pew Research Center
        Religion in Latin America: widespread change in a historically Catholic Region.
        (Available from:)
        • Vaggione J.M.
        The "culture of life": strategic displacements of Catholic conservative activism in the face of sexual and reproductive rights.
        Relig Soc. 2012; 32: 57-80
        • Yam E.A.
        • Dries-Daffner I.
        • García S.G.
        Abortion opinion research in Latin America and the Caribbean: a review of the literature.
        Stud Fam Plan. 2006; 27: 225-240
        • McMurtrie S.M.
        • García S.G.
        • Wilson K.S.
        • Diaz-Olavarrieta C.
        • Fawcett G.M.
        Public opinion about abortion-related stigma among Mexican Catholics and implications for unsafe abortion.
        Int J Gynecol Obstet. 2012; 118: S160-S166
        • GIRE
        Women and Girls without justice: reproductive rights in Mexico.
        GIRE, México, DF2015 (Available from:)
        • Wilson K.S.
        • García S.G.
        • Díaz-Olavarietta C.
        • Villalobos-Hernández A.
        • Rodríguez J.V.
        • Smith P.S.
        • et al.
        Public opinion on abortion in Mexico City after the landmark reform.
        Stud Fam Plan. 2011; 42: 175-182
        • Rodríguez J.V.
        • Wilson K.S.
        • Díaz-Olavarrieta C.
        • García S.G.
        • Sánchez Fuentes M.L.
        Public opinion on abortion in eight Mexican states amid opposition to legalization.
        Stud Fam Plan. 2011; 42: 191-198
        • National Institute of Statistics and Geography
        Panorama de las religiones en México.
        INEGI, México2010 (Available from:)
        • National Institute of Statistics and Geography
        Geostatistical Framework.
        INEGI, México2018 (Available from:)
        • Bartkowski J.P.
        • Ramos A.
        • Ellison C.G.
        • Acevedo G.A.
        Faith, race-ethnicity, and public policy preferences: religious schemas and abortion attitudes among U.S. Latinos.
        J Sci Study Relig. 2012; 51: 343-358
        • Granberg D.
        • Granberg B.W.
        Abortion attitudes, 1965-1980: trends and determinants.
        Fam Plan Perspect. 1980 Sep-Oct; 12: 250-261
        • Tuman J.P.
        • Roth-Johnson D.
        • Jelen T.
        Conscience and context: attitudes toward abortion in Mexico.
        Soc Sci Q. 2013; 94: 100-112
        • Raftery A.E.
        Bayesian model selection in social research.
        Sociol Methodol. 1995; 25: 111-163
        • Cook E.A.
        • Jelen T.G.
        • Wilcox C.
        Measuring public attitudes on abortion: methodological and substantive considerations.
        Fam Plan Perspect. 1993; 25 ([118–121+145])
        • Bankole A.
        • Singh S.
        • Haas T.
        Reasons why women have induced abortions: evidence from 27 countries.
        Int Fam Plan Perspect. 1998; 24 ([117–127 & 152])
        • García S.G.
        • Lara D.
        • Goldman L.
        Knowledge, attitudes and practices of Mexican doctors on abortion: results from a national survey.
        Gac Med Mex. 2003; 139: S91-S102
        • Montoya-Romero JdJ
        • Schiavon R.
        • Troncoso E.
        • Díaz-Olavarrieta C.
        • Karver T.
        Induced abortion in Mexico: what gynecologists think and do.
        Ginecol Obstet Mex. 2015; 83: 23-31
        • Amuchástegui A.
        • Cruz G.
        • Aldaz E.
        • Mejía M.C.
        Politics, religion and gender equality in contemporary Mexico: women's sexuality and reproductive rights in a contested secular state.
        Third World Q. 2010; 31: 989-1005
        • Harris R.J.
        • Mills E.W.
        Religion, values, and attitudes toward abortion.
        J Sci Study Relig. 1985; 24: 137-154
        • Garcia S.G.
        • Tatum C.
        • Becker D.
        • Swanson K.A.
        • Lockwood K.
        • Ellertson C.
        Policy implications of a National Public Opinion Survey on abortion in Mexico.
        Reprod Health Matters. 2004 Nov; 12: 65-74
        • Becker D.
        • Garcia S.G.
        • Larsen U.
        Knowledge and opinions about abortion law among Mexican youth.
        Int Fam Plan Perspect. 2002; 28: 205-213
        • Bolks S.M.
        • Evans D.
        • Polinard J.L.
        • Wrinkle R.D.
        Core beliefs and abortion attitudes: a look at Latinos.
        Soc Sci Q. 2000; 81: 253-260
        • Kung S.
        • Darney B.G.
        • Saavedra-Avendaño B.
        • Lohr P.
        • Gil L.
        Access to abortion under the heath exception: A comparative analysis in three countries.
        Reproductive Health. 2018; 15: 107