Earlier this year, Sen.-elect. Katrina Jackson spoke at the March for Life. Now the Louisiana politician joins the podcast to share why she is pro-life, and what she thinks about the left and pro-lifers. Read the lightly edited interview, pasted below, or listen on the podcast:
Plus, we talk to Ken Oliver of Texas Public Policy Foundation about a new border security initiative.
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Kate Trinko: I’m joined today by Sen.-elect Katrina Jackson of Louisiana. Sen. Jackson, thanks for joining us.
Sen.-elect Katrina Jackson: Thanks for having me.
Trinko: First off, you’ve become very famous, I would say, for being pro-life. You spoke at the March for Life this year. Tell me, why are you pro-life?
Jackson: Because God tells us to be. It was as simple as that for me, probably at 25 or 26 years old. I tell everyone that I was finally away from home in law school when I was about 23, 24 and joined a wonderful church. A home away from home, because I had a wonderful church at home and just got more into the word of God.
We ran midweek service one night and got to the Book of Proverbs and said, “God hated the shedding of innocent blood.” I’m really breaking it down. It was the first time that Scripture was addressed in the area of abortion and really broken down. What’s more innocent than a baby’s life? I said, “Anything that God hates, I’m going to hate.”
Trinko: Had you identified as pro-choice before that?
Jackson: I didn’t identify as anything. It wasn’t a real big issue in my hometown. It had not been discussed.
Trinko: Yeah, OK. You are also a Democrat?
Trinko: The Democratic Party is not known for being the most open to pro-lifers. So how has your experience been?
Jackson: Well, first, in Louisiana it is—not the party itself, but most of the elected officials in the state House and Senate that are Democrats are pro-life. Basically in Louisiana, really a lot of us base our politics on our family values, our Christian values, things that we were taught at home, things that we were taught in church every Sunday. So you would find a lot of us [are pro-life,] like our governor, John Bel Edwards, is pro-life. So it’s been a wonderful experience.
Now you have pockets of Louisiana … [where] Democrats are not pro-life. Sometimes that can be difficult in the sense of I’ve gone into New Orleans and other areas to do speeches and had to have security for six months until things kind of leveled out. But overall, even traveling around the country, I engage Democrats all the time.
I’m a pro-life, … pro-Medicaid expansion Democrat. So they say, “Well, how can you get it right on all these issues?” I said, “Because I don’t do party politics.”
At the end of the day, I’m a Christian before I’m anything. I’ve been real clear on that. I said, ” … Before I was black, before I was white, before I was Democrat or Republican, I wanted to be identified as a Christian.” So that’s every day the goal I wake up with is to identify with God first. So it’s just been easy in that sense.
Now, advocacy and breaking the mold nationally is a different animal in and of itself, but even there, people think that most of the elected officials that are Democrats would be antagonistic. I hadn’t experienced a lot of antagonistic … confusion amongst elected officials. We have conversations about it, we talk about it. Sometimes you convert them.
Trinko: That’s wonderful. … I think there are a lot of people on the left who are pro-life and are very frustrated that there aren’t more people like you out there. Do people approach you or do you know if people say like they wish the Democratic Party and the left in general was more open on this issue? I guess outside of Louisiana where it sounds like they are.
Jackson: Well, no, the Democratic Party in Louisiana has adopted the pro-choice platform. The party itself, not most of the elected officials in the House and the Senate. Yes, to answer your question, yes. Even in the last presidential elections, people talked more about, “Why wasn’t there a Democrat who identified with being pro-life and what we call more of the Christian values?” You’re facing that right now during this time.
The bottom line is … that we have a Democrat for life organization that’s national [and] it is bringing us together like never before. You are seeing that arm of the Democratic Party who is pro-life coming forth. Conversations are being had regarding presidential elections and everything else on why do we not see Democrats on the ballot who share our values.
That is something that’s being pushed more. Around the country, nonelected officials or those who are not even involved in Democrats for Life talk about it.
I can sit in church and I can go to my local church and on program. One of the mothers of the church will tap me on the knee and say, “You know what, baby? Good for you that you didn’t let politics change you. Good for you that you didn’t let politics persuade you to go against God.” It happens every day.
I get calls from people in my district, in Louisiana, outside of my district. I get emails. It starts with, “I am a Democrat. I believe in helping people, but I also believe in following the will of God.” So yeah, it’s being talked about. It’s just not by elected officials or those who are involved in politics. It’s been talked about by a number of Democrats around this country.
Trinko: … When it comes to the African American community, where are people on abortion? Obviously, I’m sure there’s a range of opinions, but how, overall, do you think the community thinks about abortion?
Jackson: In my African American community we’re essentially pro-life. We may not say, “Hey, we’re pro-life,” but I tell people it’s best to think it’s this.
When we sit around the table on a Sunday evening after church and with three generations of family members, we’ve never discussed abortion. We’ve never discussed a woman having a right to abortion. Most families, what we discuss is how good church was, how good God has been to us, how good family has been to us.
In our culture, traditionally, someone was pregnant and couldn’t take care of the baby. Hey, bring it to grandmother’s house, bring it to your auntie’s house. Someone is going to help you raise that child. So although we may not have in the past voiced that we were pro-life, all of our actions show that we were pro-life.
So culturally, the African American community is pro-life. I know that sometimes gets confusing because most of us are members of the Democratic Party. Well, you have to think the average African American who’s going about their life, middle class, we vote most of the time, but we’re not so engaged in party politics. If you look on the national stage, you have African Americans, but those are those who have traditionally been brought up in politics.
But just in our communities, we don’t really encourage abortion. We encourage abstinence, or if you’re going to engage in sex, you engage in safe sex, if I can say that on the radio. … It’s just point blank.
You don’t see us talking about women’s rights. You see that more in a political party when people actually get more politically involved. So, culturally, no, I wasn’t raised in a culture that pushed abortion.
Trinko: I think that’s so beautiful what you mentioned about other family members helping because I think that’s something as pro-lifers we need to remember. That you can’t just prevent the abortion, you need to help the mother and the child.
Now, you’ve talked in the past about, I believe, seeing yourself as a whole-life politician.
Trinko: Could you expand on that?
Jackson: Whole life means this: I don’t ask a woman to choose life and then walk off and don’t look at programs, implementing programs that after she chooses life would help her. This is the thing I recognized in the pro-life movement. No criticism toward anyone, it’s just a reality.
Where I live, there were advocates for life. Then after they advocated for life and you chose life, they would send you to a pregnancy center that helped during your pregnancy and after the birth of the child.
But there was no holistic approach there, which means when Medicaid expansion came up, I remember saying, “This is 300 and some page … This is a large bill.” I was in the state Legislature and I said, “This is a very large bill.” But reading through it and the staff at the state level dissecting it, I remember saying, “You know what? It may not be perfect, but it’s the law of the land.” I considered that part of my whole-life stance that 300,000-400,000 Louisianians that were working 40 hours a week would have health care.
So for me, that was part of our pro-life stance. Now, that’s not saying that Medicaid expansion was the only remedy that could have come forward, … but it was the remedy at the time. So that’s part of our whole-life stance.
You’ll hear Gov. Edwards in Louisiana talk about that a lot. He signed it into law after three years of it being in place [while] not being in law in Louisiana.
On his first day by executive order, he considered that a part of his whole-life stance. The reason why he considered that a part of his whole-life stance is because he knew that in order to ask someone to choose life … See, a mother can be on Medicaid while she’s pregnant. The day she steps out of hospital from delivery, she’s dropped … Medicaid expansion prevented that. Although the baby would’ve stayed on the CHIP, which is a form of Medicaid.
So we look at whole-life Democrats that way. … I believe in programs that provide a hand up and not a handout. So I forced some reform in our social programs, but not to the point that it doesn’t give a mother or someone who chooses life a fighting chance at having a life and their child having a good life.
There is a pilot program that I authored and Gov. Edwards signed into law last year that we’re underway with that matriculates a mother and her family—because, you know, her father’s raising children off of benefits—and get them trained.
Right now, in the state of Louisiana, and in most states, if a woman has kids, one child, and she goes out to get a job, and she’s on some of the social programs, the moment she starts working 40 hours a week, it cuts out. So I’ve heard people say … it’s better living to stay on social programs than be cut off and not be able to afford things.
So that’s the part of the whole-life Democrat stance that we began to do—Amend programs and change them to where they give a hand up and matriculate a person off of them. …
Right now, most women have a choice. You stay on the program where your child was able to eat, or you go get a job at a low wage that’s not a livable wage, not making enough money to take care of yourself, and then all your programs are gone. So when you give someone that choice, they don’t come off of the programs, they stay on social programs.
So that’s [also] a part of the whole-life stance, making sure once a woman chooses life, once a father chooses life—because sometimes the mothers will have it if you keep it—that once you choose life, we give you a fighting chance at the American dream.
That doesn’t mean giving someone a handout. I know that’s basically what some people think that the Democratic Party pushes. No, a whole-life Democrat pushes the idea that once we ask you to choose life, we’re going to give you a fighting chance at the American dream.
Trinko: How do you think that pro-life conservatives and liberals or Democrats can work together?
Jackson: We do it every day in Louisiana. I do it around the country as I go and speak. We can work together by, No. 1, you’re pro-life, so you care about the life of that child. Where we can work together is really starting to change both our views on how we care about the life of the mother after the birth of the child and how we care about that child’s life after its birth.
I think right now we can work together on the pro-life issue all day long. That’s considered pro-birth to me. The birth, that’s pro-birth. … What we can work together [on] more is our pro-life stance, what it means. Because it’s one thing [to] be pro-birth, it’s another thing to be pro-life.
When we come together and really expand what it means to be pro-life, that’s where you’re going to see us working together. That’s where you’re going to see the gap, I believe, closing, and that’s where it needs to close. What I mean [is] the gap between parties, the gap between races, the gap between communities on what being pro-life means.
You eliminate the need for anyone advocating for abortion rights. You know you’re going to have some, but when we work together to reform social programs and we work together to create avenues for families, low-income families, that’s where I think we can work best together and eliminate and put a big hole in the advocates’ reasons for being pro-choice.
Trinko: OK. Last question: How do you handle having the first name Katrina in Louisiana?
Jackson: Well, I look at it a different way. It was funny, .. before I ran for office, I was a staffer at the Capitol. I begin to staff the Capitol about two months after Hurricane Katrina. So the New Orleans legislators were actually living in Baton Rouge, they couldn’t go back. So I met … a legislator and I said, “Hi, my name is Katrina.” She’s like, “Stop playing, that’s not … ” I said, “No, seriously.” I was like, “My name’s Katrina.” So she was like, “Can I call you Rina?” I said, “Well, you could, but I’m so used to being called Katrina.”
But I look at it a different way. When religious leaders looked at Katrina and what it stood for, it was a cleansing. Not the storm, but the name and the connotations behind it.
So how do I handle it? Sometimes I laugh and I have laughter like that. Some people now that—we’re kind of not past what happened—we’re rebuilding and we’re getting our basic end, when I come in to argue, sometimes they say, “You’re just like Hurricane Katrina, you just storm in a room.”
So you handle it with laughter, but you also handled it with a seriousness of purpose. That when you set up in a room sometimes it gets attention and that may be your lead way into advocacy.
Trinko: Well, as a fellow Katrina, as I mentioned to you, I get my share of comments about it. But I never lived in Louisiana, so I can’t imagine what you’re going through. But thank you so much for joining us, Sen. Jackson.
Jackson: Thank you.