Louisiana state Sen.-elect Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, has long defied the abortion lobby’s stereotypes as a pro-life Democrat who has spoken many times at the March for Life in Washington, D.C. As she prepares to speak at the 47th-annual March for Life Jan. 24, Jackson is also eagerly anticipating oral arguments in June Medical Services LLC v. Gee, a case that began with a law she authored during her time as a state representative, which required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within a 30-mile radius.
Just prior to the law going into effect, abortion providers filed a lawsuit blocking the legislation, arguing that it was an unnecessary burden on abortion access; and while the district court weighed the case, the Supreme Court struck down a law in Texas that also required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. In that case, the justices found that the Texas law created an “undue burden” on abortion access in the state.
The U.S. 5th Circuit Court ruled that the Louisiana case was sufficiently different from the Texas case that the Hellerstedt decision was not applicable. However, the Supreme Court took up the case on appeal, and oral arguments are scheduled for March 4.
Jackson spoke with Register staff writer Lauretta Brown about the upcoming Supreme Court case and about her experience as a pro-life Democratic woman.
Tell me about that legislation in June Medical Services LLC v. Gee: What motivated you to author it, and how would you respond to critics who argue that it creates an “undue burden” on abortion access?
When I authored this law I did so because I thought it was disrespectful in the state of Louisiana to allow for women to have a lower standard of care provided to them than others. Our ambulatory surgical center law mandates that they [physicians] should have admitting privileges when performing procedures regardless of how minor in those surgical centers, but the legislators who enacted it at that time neglected — not by their own volition, but they neglected — to add an abortion statute to this law because they didn’t realize they had to, and so we discovered that it was not applicable to them.
In every other center in Louisiana, a physician has to have admitting privileges within a 30-mile radius just in case emergency care becomes necessary during the procedure. The only exception was abortion facilities, so as a woman I felt it was an insult that they would lower the standard of care for a woman’s elective procedure.
For those who say, “You’re limiting the ability to access abortion,” I would tell them it doesn’t lessen access to an abortion, it lessens access to unsafe abortion, and unsafe, unregulated abortions are not constitutional.
How does this case compare to the Texas Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt case?
In Texas, their law was new, and it only applied to abortion. We’re not the same at all; we’ve had this admitting-privileges law on the books for every other outpatient or elective patient procedure that has occurred in an ambulatory surgical center because those centers do not have emergency care onsite.
We’ve had this law in place for years, and so what we did is extend this law to abortion facilities. Louisiana has always asserted that for the health and safety of our constituents who elect to have procedures, who have those procedures in ambulatory surgical centers that do not have emergency care at the facility, that that physician who performs them must have admitting privileges within a 30-mile radius just in case emergency care becomes necessary. And we’ve always had that state interest since the law was passed.
As you are a pro-life Democrat, do you think there is still room in the Democratic Party for pro-life Democrats, given the increasingly extreme pro-abortion rhetoric?
What we say a lot is we’re “whole-life Democrats,” that we care about and we take special interest in ensuring protection of human life from the time of conception to the time of death, which means we not only advocate for the birth of the child but we also advocate for that child to have a true chance at what we call the American Dream regardless of its parents’ socioeconomic status, regardless of where they’re from, regardless of their background.
We have a number of Democrats fighting to ensure the children that are in facilities that crossed this border illegally receive proper care. Those children are born, and they still say that that child that is born should have a good life; and I believe that because no child should suffer for the choices of their parents, and in believing that I might have a different view on how we approach it and how we ensure the children are taken care of, but one thing that we agree on is that they should be taken care of. They share the same stance, but for some reason there’s the misconception out there that prebirth children are not children.
In the state of Louisiana, a majority of Democrats elected to the state House and Senate are pro-life. I always say this, when people say, “Why are you a Democrat?” I say because we’re the party of the big tent, which means we don’t all think the same on all subjects, but we all can agree when we agree and respectfully disagree. There is room to be a pro-life Democrat for anyone who wants to care about the child from conception till death.
Where do you think there might be some common ground between pro-lifers and abortion advocates?
A point of agreement should be that abortion should be safe and that women who elect to have abortions should be provided the same standard of care as others in the state who elect to have other minor procedures. If we get rid of this cloud of false information, the first thought would be this legislation, but what happens is any time legislation is passed that regulates abortion for the safety of women, those who make billions of dollars in the abortion industry come out and fight it and they put out false statements regarding what the legislation does.
Pro-lifers and those who are pro-abortion, if they could ever get in a room, might not ever agree on the sanctity of life, but we can agree on the woman receiving proper health care during her pregnancy; and around this country and in the state of Louisiana we’re having to address the high [maternal] mortality rate that has been developing.
We can agree on what some of those state and federal programs that provide health care for women should encompass for a woman who is pregnant and carrying the child, to ensure that she carries that child to full, healthy term.
There are a lot of areas where we can agree even pre-birth, because, as pro-lifers, we don’t just say, “Don’t go to the abortion clinic.” We say, “Don’t go to the abortion clinic, and let us help you throughout your pregnancy. Let us make sure and fight for laws that ensure that if you’re going through bad times, you can at least receive health care for the safety of that child that you’ve chosen to have.”
What do you think of the March for Life’s theme “Life Empowers: Pro-Life Is Pro-Woman,” which pays homage to the pro-life stance of some of the main advocates of women’s suffrage?
I think it’s a fitting theme, especially as we celebrate the anniversary of the suffrage movement. A lot of those who were part of the suffrage movement did not promote or endorse abortion. Women generally wanted the right to vote so that they could select candidates who would fairly represent them on an equal basis; and so that’s really what it was about. And a lot of them were pro-life; a lot of them really fought for voting rights to protect not only them, but to protect their families and their children.
This is fitting that our theme celebrates those who paved the way to give women true empowerment. In a world right now where some would say that abortion empowers women, the truth is that the women’s suffrage [movement] empowered women politically more than anything else.
How has your Christian faith guided you in your pro-life efforts?
The word of God says in all things give honor to him and acknowledge him in all thy ways — and so every day of my life my faith leads me, because there’s not an area in my life where I do not depend on him.
Proverbs says that there are six things that God hates … one of those is the shedding of innocent blood. What blood is more innocent than that of a child who’s not even been born into this world? My faith drives me in this because I don’t want to be responsible for laws that perpetuate the shedding of innocent blood in America.