Last Friday, tens of thousands of pro-lifers descended on Washington for the annual March for life. The event has been held every year since 1974, the year after Roe v. Wade was decided in the Supreme Court. Lost in the news cycle was the prominence and importance of Louisianans at this March for Life. Of course, this largely went unnoticed, as President Trump was the first president to address the event in person. Even with this landmark event, an even more important moment for the pro-life movement is approaching in just over a month, when the Supreme Court visits Louisiana’s abortion clinic case, June Medical Services vs. Gee.
The appearance of the president at the march was important, it was a first, and he gave a strong speech in defense of the unborn. The president’s actions in recent years have been somewhat beneficial to the pro-life movement, but large change has mainly occurred at the state level. Recent years have been intense in abortion politics, as hardliners in New York and Illinois have passed near-total abortion freedom legislation, and others states such as Alabama and Georgia have passed some of the strongest restrictions on abortion yet with high profile heartbeat bills, Louisiana has flown under the radar in the national abortion conversation. The March for Life marked a moment of prominence for Lousiana pro-lifers on a stage shared with the president. Three speakers (nearly a third of the lineup), Steve Scalise, Katrina Jackson, and Donna Edwards represented Louisiana at the March.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise touted Louisiana’s designation as the most pro-life state in the union by Americans United for Life. A strong advocate for pro-life causes, Scalise urged attendees and those watching to petition their congress members to support the Born Alive Survivors Act, of which he is a cosponsor. This bill would make it a requirement that abortion “healthcare providers” provide care to a child if they are born alive during an attempted abortion, something that even pro-choicers should support. Nancy Pelosi has blocked the bill from getting onto the floor, and the discharge petition is only fourteen votes short of being able to force a vote. If the bill were to come to the floor, Scalise believes “this bill would get over 300 votes, but there are a lot of members of congress hiding behind speaker Pelosi.” If this bill were to pass and be signed in to law, lives would quite literally be saved.
Donna Edwards, the wife of Democratic governor John Bel Edwards, made a case for being pro-life in the fullest sense. Abortion activists often state that pro-lifers are only pro-birth. Other pro-lifers often refute these points in their words and in their actions, but having the Democratic First Lady of Louisiana make the case to a national audience was a strong refutation. Edwards stated that “in addition to being pro-life, let us also be pro-love, because it is what we are commanded to do, as Christians we are called not to judge one another but help the least among us.” In her role as first lady of Louisiana, Edwards has taken that virtue to heart, leading programs that help foster children as well as broader support for children’s education and nutrition.
Katrina Jackson, a Democratic state senator, touted how she is able to be in a state where support for pro-life policies are so strongly bipartisan “The fight for life doesn’t have a partisan stance to it, we love babies.” In 2012 while in the Louisiana house, Jackson sponsored Act 620, which requires abortion providers to have visiting privileges at a hospital within a reasonable distance. This law has been challenged in the courts, as detractors argue it is solely designed to impede abortion access. After moving through a series of lower courts, this case will be heard before the Supreme Court as the aforementioned June Medical Services vs. Gee.
At a time when not a single Democrat in a crowded presidential primary field is pro-life, and a dwindling number of pro-life democrats occupy the House and Senate, how have Democrats and Republicans been able to build a pro-life coalition in Louisiana? There are a variety of reasons for this. First, Louisiana is one of the most religious states in the country, and religious people, regardless of political affiliation, have higher support of pro-life policies that the irreligious or areligious. Second, unlike many other Southern states, Louisiana boasts a large Catholic population, around 30%, due to historical and demographic factors, Catholics are among the most active religious groups in the pro-life movement. Third, Louisiana is a conservative state but still often elects Democrats, similarly to West Virginia, hence, Democrats in office tend to be more conservative in Louisiana than say, California or New York. At a time when the religious and the pro-life are increasingly being shunned by the Democratic national establishment as radical progressive elements are gaining steam in the party, conservative-leaning Democrats are likely looking for alternatives.
Even with the troubling trends in her party, Jackson is optimistic about the right to life in coming years, she stated that “we are about to turn the situation around, I see the bands and chains being torn off Roe v. Wade.” Some abortion activists agree with Jackson, believing that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the Louisiana law, it could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for Roe v. Wade. A similar Texas law was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2016, but with new justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, pro-lifers have reason to be optimistic, and abortion hawks are sweating bullets. Even if Roe v. Wade were to be repealed, much of the decision-making post-Roe would come at the state level. Clearly the pro-life movement faces challenges moving forward, but it can look to Louisiana as an example of how a state can be actively, lovingly, and bipartisanly pro-life.