Louisiana’s Bipartisan Pro-Life Culture Remains Strong in Today’s Polarized Post-Roe Climate
The state has a long history of bipartisanship on the pro-life issue.
As most Democratic lawmakers across the country fight to ensure and expand access to abortion following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, there is one state where many Democrats in the state Legislature are the ones fighting to limit abortion and advocating for pro-life protections. In Louisiana, it’s not unusual that a Democratic woman is leading the charge to protect unborn life.
State Sen. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, who sponsored the Reaffirmation of Human Life Protection Act, barring most abortions in the state just prior to the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision, is among eight out of 12 Democrats currently in the state Senate who have a pro-life voting score of 75% or more from Louisiana Right to Life.“It’s not an anomaly in Louisiana,” Jackson told the Register of Democrats with strong pro-life stances. “I hope it doesn’t become that.”
Grounded in Faith
She believes the state’s religiosity is the “No. 1 contributing factor” to the political climate where Democrats and Republicans have remained so united around opposing abortion. The state “heavily practices Christianity,” she said, adding that, “in south Louisiana, there are an overwhelming number of Catholics, and in northeast Louisiana there are Christian Protestants; it’s all throughout the state.”
A 2016 study from the Barna group found that Lafayette, Louisiana, was the most Catholic city in the U.S., with a 50% Catholic population, and the state was ranked the fourth most religious in the country by Gallup. She called the religious demographics a “driving force” behind the pro-life climate being the “general culture of the state” because “it’s what we’re taught when we’re sitting around the dinner table.”
Louisiana-based pollster John Couvillon with JMC Analytics told the Register that the combination of the large number of evangelical Christians and the nearly one-third Catholic population is why “you have the strong pro-life sentiment that you do amongst both Republicans and Democrats.”Outgoing Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who has served eight years in that role and was term limited, has commented in the past regarding the religious foundation for his pro-life stance.
“That’s the way I was raised,” he said in an October 2018 radio broadcast. “That’s what my Catholic Christian faith requires. … I know that for many in the national party, on the national scene, that’s not a good fit. But I will tell you, here in Louisiana, I speak and meet with Democrats who are pro-life every single day.”Edwards was the latest in a line of pro-life governors, both Democrat and Republican, stretching back over three decades since 1992. He will be succeeded by the state’s pro-life Republican attorney general, Jeff Landry, who won the Oct. 14 primary election outright with 51.6% of the vote, the first time a gubernatorial race in the state has not gone to a runoff since 2011.
Sarah Zagorski, communications director at Louisiana Right to Life, told the Register that she thinks the state has a “strong, faith-based community” with pro-life values. She pointed out the large number of Baptists in northern Louisiana who are historically pro-life. According to a study from the Public Religion Research Institute, Louisiana is the third-most Baptist state in the country.
Newly elected Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson is a Southern Baptist from Shreveport, Louisiana, who has discussed his pro-life views in the context of his faith. In one of his first interviews after his election to the role of speaker with KSLA News, he said he believed in the “sanctity of human life” because of his belief that “God creates each person,” and he added that “each of us has inestimable dignity and value because we’re made in God’s image.”
Voting to Protect Life
As one example of the state’s track record of voting overwhelmingly to protect life, Jackson highlighted her “Love Life” amendment, which passed in 2020 with the support of 62% of Louisiana voters, adding language to the Louisiana Constitution stating that “nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”
She said in that instance — which occurred well ahead of the Dobbs decision and ballot initiatives in several states that have added abortion access to their constitutions — “our constituents voted resoundingly to stand with life.” She emphasized that 62 out of the state’s 64 parishes voted in favor of the amendment.
Zagorski pointed out that Jackson’s Love Life amendment “garnered more votes than any other amendment in Louisiana history.”
Couvillon referenced an April 2023 poll he did that indicated that abortion views may have shifted among Louisianans since the Dobbs decision. That survey found that 49% identified as “pro-choice” and 44% identified as “pro-life.”
However, he believed Jackson’s Love Life amendment would likely still pass today. He said that while people’s feelings may have changed on abortion, he didn’t know “if the feelings changed enough to where it would impact how they vote because I can’t think of a single case of somebody making abortion the issue — being more ‘pro-choice’ — and defeating a more pro-life person here in the state.”
He pointed out that the recent Oct. 14 election resulted in a major Republican victory with Landry’s win, and he expected the remaining runoffs to also be favorable to Republicans.
Zagorski said that while she has seen “a lot of media misinterpretation” over the state law barring most abortions since Dobbs, it did not cause people who are “largely pro-life to question their stance on abortion,” which was obvious from the “vote we saw in October with Shawn Wilson versus Jeff Landry; we just saw overwhelmingly that the constituents saw through that.”
Pro-Life Wins Post-Dobbs
Democratic candidate Wilson came second to Landry in the October “jungle” primary — where all candidates, regardless of party, run against each other on the same ballot — with 25.9% of the vote. While Wilson did profess to be “personally pro-life,” he also stated that “bureaucrats should not be overriding private and difficult decisions best made by women, families and their doctors” and that “there should be commonsense limitations that bring us closer to Louisiana’s laws before the trigger-ban laws took effect after the Dobbs decision.”
Jackson believed a number of factors were at play in Landry’s win and called Wilson a friend, who “we believed to be at some point pro-life,” but said he “wavered on the issue.” She believed Wilson “would have had some crossover-voter Republicans, had he been a little bit more stable on that issue.”
Republican state Sen. Beth Mizell, who proudly works alongside Jackson and other pro-life Democrats in the state Senate and as chair of the Women’s Caucus, told the Register that the long-standing pro-life culture in the state faced aggressive challenges in the recent election.
In her race last month, one of her Democratic opponents, Brittany Gondolfi, made abortion access a central part of her campaign. Gondolfi wrote on her campaign website about working at an abortion facility and spoke about her own experience obtaining an abortion at age 19. She said Louisiana’s existing law “gives the government way too much control over peoples’ lives” and said it was “cruel and heartless to women.” She wound up earning just 13% of the vote, as Mizell won with 78% in the state’s 12th state Senate district.
“I know there’s an effort to undermine what we’ve done and where we are,” Mizell said. “If you’re seeing the steadfastness of Louisiana on the pro-life issue, you know there’s going to be a national push to undermine it, and I think we better be ready for some backlash from the pro-choice folks.”
She praised the strength of the women in the state Senate, including Jackson, on the pro-life issue and said it was wonderful to see “the bipartisan support of the pro-life bills within the Women’s Caucus,” as all the women in the Louisiana Senate — three Republicans and two Democrats — are pro-life.
“We give each other cover when we can and then we just step aside when we disagree and respect the differences, but it’s an interesting set of circumstances,” she said. “We don’t do that with a lot of things — but the pro-life issue, we seem to have been able to do that.”
Jackson does see a long way to go for the state, in terms of pro-life efforts beyond limiting abortion. “There’s an assumption that there’s a healthy overall culture of life in our state based on us being pro-life,” she said. “I draw a distinct difference in being pro-life and being a whole-life advocate; and, for me, I’m a whole-life advocate.”
“Just like many other states that are pro-life, Louisiana is still struggling to get it right in the whole-life advocacy,” she said, which consists of not just being “against abortions, but also being able to offer services and a hand up to the family and the mother of that child at the time of need.”
She pointed to funding for early childhood education that the Louisiana Legislature passed recently as a step in the right direction, but added that “when you look at the amount of poverty that Louisiana still sees in pockets of the state that are heavily minority, that is an issue, so I wouldn’t say just yet that we have a healthy culture of life.”
Like Jackson, Mizell emphasized the need for the state to improve the resources and assistance they provide to mothers and their children after birth. “Our maternal-health outcomes are the worst,” she said, and she highlighted a measure she introduced that was signed into law in July, which would provide tax breaks for donors to qualifying crisis-pregnancy centers whose standards are in line with maternal-wellness standards across the state.
“Can we all agree we need to help pregnant women?” she said, pointing out that a lot of the pregnancy centers “are in rural areas that don’t even have OB-GYNs; they would help women get prenatal care.”
Zagorski wondered what was happening to the roughly 7,000 women annually who procured abortions in the three facilities in the state pre-Dobbs, saying they were likely seeking abortions online or out of state, as “crisis pregnancy isn’t going anywhere.” She said the pro-life movement in the state has to be there for these women to support them in choosing life.
Jackson believes whole-life advocacy is key to changing hearts and minds on abortion. “We stand for life, and we ask women not to abort their children, which I think is always the right thing to do; but we have the same responsibility to advocate for programs and opportunities for those children and those mothers,” she said. “That’s when we’re going to see the culture of abortion change, and that really is the goal.”