While many Americans focus on upcoming holiday celebrations, some pro-life advocates have been watching developments on a Supreme Court case — and the counternarrative female legislator behind the law being challenged at the high court.
In June Medical Services v. Gee, the abortion industry contested a patient protection law that specifies health and safety regulations for medical providers. In June 2014, the Louisiana state legislature passed the law, Act 620, putting abortion doctors under the same regulations as all other outpatient doctors by requiring that any “physician performing or inducing an abortion shall have active admitting privileges at a hospital that is located not further than thirty miles from the location at which the abortion is performed or induced.”
Abortion providers challenged the law, and while their case remained unsettled in the district court, the Supreme Court ruled on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, striking down a “nearly identical” Texas law for causing an “undue burden” on women’s abortion rights while serving no “health-related benefit” nor “relevant credentialing function.”
This led to the district court concluding the same about Act 620. A panel of judges from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, determined that the district court failed to see “remarkabl[e] differen[ces]” between the two cases, saying Act 620 would not inflict an undue burden on women.
Act 620 was authored by state Rep. Katrina Jackson, who is now state senator-elect, after she ran unchallenged for a seat representing District 34 in northeast Louisiana. In early 2020, Jackson will be speaking out not only in the state house but perhaps also at the highest court in the nation.
“Oral arguments have been set for March 4,” said Jackson in a phone interview. “I am now in the process of getting barred to go before the Supreme Court and argue this case with the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office.”
A longtime Democratic elected official who nevertheless shuns her party’s pro-abortion stance, Jackson will be a featured speaker at the 47th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., in January, as well as a charity event to benefit pro-life nonprofit Save the Storks alongside Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the former press secretary to President Donald Trump.
In a wide-ranging interview from her office in Louisiana, Jackson shares why she believes the court case matters, addresses her critics, and reveals how faith undergirds her pro-life advocacy. It has been lightly edited for length.
The Coming Court Battle
In January, you will address the March for Life on the main stage — which is a rarity two years in a row. What do you plan to share with the hundreds of thousands of pro-life advocates expected to gather on the National Mall?
Jackson: You know, it’s a short address, and having it two years in a row is just God shining his favor on me. What I expect to say is that we continue to fight. Regardless of who we are, where we come from, or our background, we will stand for life together.
One reason for the attention is that the law you authored in Louisiana, regarding admitting privileges for abortion providers, is now at the U.S. Supreme Court. Could you share about that case and why it matters to pro-life advocates?
Jackson: That law is a women’s health piece of legislation. In Louisiana, for a number of years, we have ensured by law that anyone who goes to an outpatient facility for any kind of surgery, that the doctor must have admitting privileges. That applies to all physicians, even if you go to such a facility only to have a mole removed.
It came to our attention that, because the abortion laws are in a different section of our statutes, that those procedures were not covered. Why it may be important to pro-life advocates is because of what our 2014 bill said, that this is a women’s health issue. Louisiana requires a certain standard of care for outpatient surgery, and we will not lower it for those electing to have abortion. I don’t consider an abortion a minor procedure, to be clear.
In the context of this case, people have revisited the Supreme Court case on the Texas law that was struck down. Louisiana is uniquely situated in that, for a number of years, we’ve had this law on the books. When originally enacted, legislators believed it applied to everyone. It’s just now being applied to abortion providers because of our legislative fix in 2014.
Faith, Life, and the Christmas Message
Where did this value for vulnerable lives originate in your life?
Jackson: I have been in church all my life, since I was born. Then I went to law school after moving away from my family, and was in a church away from home that was teaching wonderful Bible studies.
We came to the scripture in Proverbs chapter six that says, God hates the shedding of innocent blood. It began to relate to abortion — what blood is more innocent than that of a child? When you’re in the womb, you have not yet been born into a sinful world. That was when it became clear to me: I’m going to hate what God hates. Children in the womb have never had a chance to know sin.
Not that I’m perfect in any way; I am striving, just like everyone else, to do the will of God. But if I’m going to truly profess to know the Lord Jesus Christ, then I’m going to hate what he hates and love what he loves.
I had to have been 24 years old or so. Before then, I had never really heard that scripture relate to abortion or even decided where I stood. Coming into my legal career, this formed my opinion and basis of belief much stronger on what abortion meant: the shedding of innocent blood.
Today, the media seems to use issues of life and abortion as a political football. As we approach Christmas, what message do you see in the gospel story about the value of every life?
Jackson: Mary was engaged to be married to Joseph. Her miraculous conception could’ve been looked at negatively, number one, by him. It was looked at negatively by other observers. If we stress this idea of life not being valuable in the womb, then Jesus’s life wouldn’t have been valuable — because he wasn’t born under the ideal circumstances.
Look at the circumstances of Jesus’ birth and all the reasons why advocates for abortion talk about abortion being a right: the economic situation of a family not having much money, being unwed with a child, and not having anywhere to stay. Those are all arguments that are used by those who advocate for abortion.
The Christian message would say: We would have lost the redeemer of this whole world had we gone with the proponents of abortion and why they think it is necessary. They could have very well argued for the death and aborting of Jesus Christ.
On Enduring Criticism from Every Side
Some people will be puzzled or offended about the “D” behind your name, due to the power that Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion interests have in the Democratic Party. How do you respond to such critics?
Jackson: I’m a Christian first — and I love my party. When they’re right, I stand with them, and when I believe they’re not, I cannot stand with them. No party is perfect. There are things the Republican Party believes in that I adamantly do not stand for.
From day one of running in my district, I was very clear that — although I’m not perfect — my goal in this office was to do the will of God. This is one of those issues where I’m standing with God. We are not elected to be cookie-cutter politicians; we are elected to represent the people who send us to our state houses and Congress.
My concern is not who I offend based on their overall national view of a party or a candidate. My concern is always, number one, that I not offend God, and number two, that I not offend those who elected me to be their voice.
This fall, you campaigned for your friend, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D). Why do you believe he won?
Jackson: John Bel Edwards is 100 percent a “whole life” pro-life advocate such as myself. I believe he won because he has, in the past four years, advocated for people even outside of the pro-life arena. He has stood on his beliefs regardless of fierce criticism from the left and right. He won because he really tries to understand every group of citizenry and respond to the concerns of the people of Louisiana.
African Americans turned out in large numbers for Edwards. He has a wonderful ability to hear the voice of all constituencies and address issues like criminal justice reform. Reuniting people with their families after they have been incarcerated and giving teeth to laws that prevent wrongful convictions, he sees that as part of his pro-life stance. He won because he was right for Louisiana, and that includes being pro-life.
The fact that he stood for what is right is a major factor in him winning. Republicans and people from other parties crossed over to vote for Edwards — possibly for his views on economic issues, but certainly because they shared his views on life and faith in Louisiana.