Louisiana state Rep. Katrina R. Jackson has been called plenty of names — a fake Democrat, a traitor, even a Republican — but she prefers another label: “whole life Democrat.”
The two-term legislator has repeatedly defied her party with her staunch pro-life advocacy. She not only voted this week to place the No Right to Abortion constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot, but she also sponsored it.
Yet Ms. Jackson is more than a random political outlier. She is helping carve a niche in her party for Democrats who oppose abortion but support a host of social programs, including a livable wage, affordable health care, equal pay for women and criminal justice reform.
“I understand my party’s position on abortion. I knew it when I ran,” Ms. Jackson told The Washington Times. “I consider myself a whole life Democrat — just like our governor — which means that we advocate for life from the womb to the tomb.”
She may be an anomaly among Democrats nationally, but she has plenty of company in Louisiana. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who last week signed into law a fetal heartbeat bill that was backed by 17 Democrats in the House and seven in the Senate.
Nine Senate Democrats voted Wednesday in favor of Ms. Jackson’s No Right to Abortion constitutional amendment while five voted against it. In the House, 17 Democrats voted for the amendment and 20 opposed it.
“Actually, I think a majority of the Democrats in this body are pro-life,” Ms. Jackson said. “I call them ‘whole life’ because they fight for the same issues Democrats fight for nationally, but they just view life holistically.”
Her position on abortion is rooted in her religion — she grew up in a Christian family and attends the Riverside Missionary Baptist Church in Monroe — as well as her concerns about the impact of abortion on the black community.
“No. 1, I’m a Christian,” she said. “No. 2, in Louisiana, African Americans make up 30% of the population but 60% of the abortions. I really think one reason why the African American birthrate has declined is because of abortion.”
In an April 27 post on Facebook, she described abortion as a “modern day genocide in the African-American Community” and warned that “if it continues we will become the minority of minorities.”
Although Ms. Jackson has made no secret of her views — she frequently speaks at events such as the March for Life — one of the surprises of the legislative session was the number of state Democrats willing to cross party lines on abortion.
Democrats in New Mexico and Rhode Island helped defeat “codify Roe” bills pushed by Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice groups seeking to eliminate restrictions on abortion in the event the Supreme Court’s newly minted 5-4 conservative majority overturns the 1973 decision that made abortion a national right.
Six North Carolina Democrats supported a bill requiring medical care for infants born alive after abortion, and one — state Sen. Don Davis — voted to override the veto of Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat.
Two House Democrats — state Reps. Charles Graham and Garland Pierce — joined Republicans on Wednesday in a failed attempt to upend the veto. None of the Democrats breaking ranks to support the bill was white.
Ms. Jackson receives a swath of negative comments and insults on her social media accounts, but most of the feedback is positive and her constituents are apparently fine with her stance.
“My district is a pro-life district,” she said.
The 41-year-old lawmaker attended the Southern University Law School and worked in the Legislature for seven years before seeking office. In 2011, she managed to avoid a runoff by capturing 51% of the vote in the blanket primary, and she was unopposed in 2015 in her Monroe-based district.
This year, she is running to succeed term-limited state Sen. Francis C. Thompson. Her pro-life views are unlikely to hurt her in this race: Mr. Thompson is also a Democrat who voted in favor of the fetal heartbeat legislation and constitutional amendment against abortion.
How does she vote in presidential contests when facing the inevitable choice between a pro-life Republican and a pro-choice Democrat? In 2016, Ms. Jackson said she supported Democrat Hillary Clinton, no friend of abortion opponents.
Ms. Jackson said Ms. Clinton’s platform indicated that “she would support life after birth and that women would be more likely to choose life because of the opportunities that they would have for livable wages, health insurance for them and the child, and a host of other opportunities.”
“I made it very clear that I did not support her pro-abortion stance but supported her stance of Life once the child was born,” she said in an email.
On 2020, she is undecided but said she was heartened by former Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s support for the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortion in all but the hardest cases, though he took back that stance Thursday at a Democratic fundraiser in Atlanta.
As for the naysayers, Ms. Jackson sticks to the high ground.
“When people say, ‘You need to leave the Democratic Party,’ my response is, ‘I thought this was the big-tent party,’” she said. “We have to vote my conscience regardless of how the party feels.”