Politics & Policy

‘Hanging by a Thread’: Democrats and the Abortion Case That Could Signal the Beginning of the End

Scenes from the 47th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C, January 24, 2020 (Katie Yoder)
The Unsafe Abortion Protection Act was introduced by Democratic state senator Katrina Jackson.

The air was warmer than usual and spirits were high at Friday’s March for Life in Washington, D.C., as pro-life demonstrators gathered across the National Mall to protest abortion and express support for mothers and their unborn children.

The marchers, many of them teenagers and women with small children who had trekked long distances to be there, had good reason for their smiling enthusiasm. This year’s 47th annual march followed a year of wins for the pro-life movement, including several court cases that suggest there may be a light at the end of the tunnel for those who hope to punt abortion access back to the states and possibly even overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case that legalized abortion nationwide.

One case in particular has sparked hope that abortion access could soon be the prerogative of individual states again. The Supreme Court in March will consider a Louisiana law requiring doctors who perform abortions to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic, a credential many abortionists do not have. According to critics of the law, it threatens to shut down all but one abortion clinic in Louisiana, which sees roughly 10,000 abortions every year.

The Unsafe Abortion Protection Act was introduced by Democratic state senator Katrina Jackson, who argues her bill is “a health standard law” that is “very common sense.”

“It’s very important for the pro-life movement and for women everywhere in Louisiana because it ensures that the standards of health care are not lower in the area of abortion,” Jackson told National Review on Thursday at pro-life group Save the Storks’s annual Stork Ball in Washington.

Jackson, a Baptist and attorney, has served in the Louisiana House of Representatives since 2012 and was elected unopposed in October to represent a northeast Louisiana state-senate district. In recent years, she has become a standard-bearer for an increasingly rare breed, the pro-life Democrat, and she spoke at this year’s March for Life.

“Imagine this. A woman hemorrhages during the time of her procedure. Who do you want? You want a competent doctor who has access to health care for you at that point,” Jackson continued.

Current Louisiana law requires doctors in outpatient surgical centers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital so that if a procedure goes awry the same doctor who knows what went wrong can coordinate with the hospital. That standard does not apply to abortion clinics.

“Basically, Louisiana, unknowingly to us, had a lower standard of care for women who elected to have abortions in some places,” Jackson said. “And so what we did was make sure that that standard of health care that we established in Louisiana for years also applied to abortion.”

She went on to add that contrary to popular belief, not all abortionists are OB-GYNs, claiming that in Louisiana, a radiologist and an optometrist were hired to perform abortions.

Jackson also said she has heard “horrible stories” from women who received abortions from physicians who had no connection with the hospital. When a problem arose, the hemorrhaging patient was sent in an ambulance, there was no call ahead to the hospital, and oftentimes the woman ended up having a hysterectomy, or surgery to remove her uterus.

“One decision in a woman’s life hinders her from ever having a child again,” Jackson said.

“It’s as simple as this. A doctor without admitting privileges cannot call in to a hospital and admit you and tell them what happened,” she continued. “And so this is becoming very important. We look at competency and we look at the continuity of care.”

The Louisiana case will be the first major court battle over abortion since conservative justice Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed, replacing retired justice Anthony Kennedy, who represented a divided High Court’s swing vote on a number of hot-button social issues. The cementing of a conservative majority has elicited a manic response from the nation’s abortion-rights groups, which now routinely cast the reversal of Roe v. Wade as an immediate threat to the health of American women.

“Access to abortion is hanging by a thread in this country, and this case is what could snap that thread,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood.

But Jackson remains hopeful that the events of the last year have opened up space for national Democrats to begin dissenting from the party’s abortion orthodoxy, just as Democrats have done on the state level in her home state.

“We’re hoping that one day, as far as the pro-life movement is concerned, D.C. will look more like Louisiana,” she added. “When we see people attacking you because you’re a pro-life Democrat, we’re coming to your aid.”

“We fight for a place in the party, but what we realize is this is not a party issue,” Jackson said. “And so we are never going to back down from standing up for life.”

Louisiana’s Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, has also broken with his party on the abortion issue, last summer signing a separate “heartbeat bill,” which would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected at about six weeks of pregnancy, before many women even know they are pregnant.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, expressed high hopes for the Louisiana case.

“There’s a common sense at the core of that that the Supreme Court can’t miss,” Dannenfelser told National Review at the March for Life. “It’ll give them an opportunity to overturn what I think was a mistake along the margins of the Hellerstedt case.”

That case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, was decided by the Supreme Court in 2016, the majority ruling that Texas cannot require abortionists to have hospital admitting privileges or require abortion clinics to meet surgical-center standards because such requirements force an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions and thus violate the Constitution. The Louisiana case does not include the stipulation that clinics must meet surgical-center standards.

Dannenfelser, formerly a fervent pro-choice proponent, also agreed with Jackson, saying she believes the Democratic party is slowly heading in a more pro-life direction and expressing hope that the party can “come back to where they used to be, which is embracing pro-life candidates and allowing conscience stands on candidates.”

“I think this is a story yet to be told because it hasn’t unfolded completely, but I think what’s happening is a crack in the base of the Democratic party on this particular issue,” Dannenfelser said. “The national party does not reflect the grassroots. The closer you get to the will of the people . . . the more pro-life that group gets.”

In fact, over half of Democratic voters, 55 percent, support requiring doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges, according to an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll conducted last summer. An eye-popping 41 percent of Democrats also support prohibiting abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy, and 32 percent would even ban abortions after heartbeat activity can be detected in the fetus at about six weeks.

For women suffering from the pain of abortion, Dannenfelser encouraged them to accept the love from the pro-life movement that is behind all the court cases and campaigning.

“Reconciliation, conversion of heart, restoration of mind, body, spirit, is at the heart of this movement. You can’t miss it when you walk around here,” Dannenfelser said, gesturing to the crowd of bundled-up marchers. “So any woman who has either themselves had an abortion, come close to an abortion, helped somebody else get one, come back. Listen to your heart. Only love has grown this movement, and we embrace all.”

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