Meet the pro-life Democrat behind one of the Supreme Court's most controversial cases for 2020

As a pro-life Democrat, Louisiana State Sen. Katrina Jackson isn’t an anomaly in her home state, but she is in Washington, D.C. And she wants to change that.

Jackson will be in the nation’s capital Wednesday, when the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on why her abortion clinic regulations – requiring that doctors who perform the procedure have admitting privileges at local hospitals – should pass constitutional muster. Her bill, she argued, should unify Democrats and Republicans behind a common interest in protecting women.

“It’s really a pro-women’s health bill because I’m not going to ignore those women,” she told Fox News during an exclusive interview in January. “I’m not going to ignore their health care needs.”

Regardless of labels, legislation like Jackson’s has played a pivotal role in chipping away at abortion access across the country. Requirements like admitting privileges and mandatory waiting periods have created what progressives say are detrimental hurdles to providing and accessing abortion.

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And now, Jackson’s bill could be the key to gutting the landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade, which prevents states like hers from outright banning the procedure at certain stages in pregnancy. Her bill is especially controversial because she’s defending a type of abortion restriction that the court rejected in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt.

State Senator Katrina Jackson speaks at Stork Ball 2020 at the Ronald Reagan Building on Jan. 23, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Save The Storks)

State Senator Katrina Jackson speaks at Stork Ball 2020 at the Ronald Reagan Building on Jan. 23, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Save The Storks)

With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s support in 2016, the court struck down a Texas law that required abortion clinic doctors have admitting privileges at local hospitals — something pro-choice activists argue is designed to shut down clinics, as many might not be able to comply. Louisiana’s has three clinics while Missouri maintains one clinic that Planned Parenthood salvaged through the courts.

Conservatives hope that Jackson’s legislation faces better chances now that Kennedy is gone and the court is dominated by President Trump’s newly confirmed “conservative” justices.

But for Jackson, being pro-life -- or rather, “whole life,” as she puts it -- should bridge traditional ideological divides.

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Speaking at a "Fig and Olive" restaurant in D.C., Jackson called for a political movement that would make it easier for Democrats like her and Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill. to stay in office.

“Being pro-life should not be about party or gender or anything. It should just be about being pro-life,” she told a group of pro-life activists, including many Democrats, before the March for Life in January. The event was a Democrats for Life fundraiser, urging attendees to support Lipinski, one of the few pro-life Democrats in Congress. He’s in a tough battle to hold his seat against Marie Newman, a Democratic challenger with not only Planned Parenthood’s backing, but that of many of Lipinski’s Democratic colleagues in Congress.

For Jackson, the amount of pushback Lipinski and other federal legislators receive is unfathomable. She recalled how Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., told her that unlike in their home state, the federal legislature – when dominated by Jackson’s own party – won’t bring pro-life measures to the floor.

“Let me tell you, on the day we pass a pro-life bill, every time it comes to committee … you don’t even know who’s in what party,” she said. A month after Lipinski’s fundraiser, Congress highlighted just how much Louisiana and DC stood in contrast to one another.

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On Friday, House Democrats overwhelmingly defeated a motion to recommit a bill that would impose penalties on doctors for not providing appropriate medical care to infants who survive abortions. Lipinski and two others were the only Democrats to vote in favor of reconsidering the legislation. Democratic leadership, however, blocked the legislation from coming to the floor at least 80 times.

Opponents have argued that the bill was redundant since the Bush administration passed a bill in 2002 that affirmed legal rights for infants. Friday’s bill and many others have been painted as part of a broader attempt to control women and restrict a “fundamental human right” to the procedure.

“What is happening in Louisiana is part of a dangerous national trend,” Planned Parenthood said on its website. “With these same dangerous restrictions enacted in neighboring states, the United States is becoming a country where a woman's ability to make personal medical decisions without interference from politicians will be dependent upon where she lives.”

One of the top leaders within Jackson’s party -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. -- described the recent spate of pro-life bills as immoral. Although Pelosi and others have signaled an openness to pro-life Democrats, they’ve persistently defended access to abortion.

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Jackson faced more direct backlash when she spoke at Loyola University in 2019. Protesters lined up in the auditorium with signs that read “you cannot silence us” and “keep your rosaries off my ovaries,” an apparent reference to pro-life Catholics who pray outside of clinics. As Jackson tried to speak, the protesters chanted: “My body, my choice! My body, my choice!”

But the criticism that most bothers Jackson isn’t arguments about choice. It’s the suggestion that she can’t be black, a Democrat, and oppose abortion. “For me, it was a Christian issue,” she said of her early foray into pro-life politics.

One day in her 20s, she was studying the Bible and focused on Proverbs 6, which outlines six things that God “hates.” Her bishop connected one of those – “the shedding of innocent blood” – to abortion. “And for the first time, it clicked,” she told Fox News. “And I said, you know what, if I’m truly going to follow God, I’m going to hate what he hates.”

Although she prioritizes her faith in her decision making, Jackson doesn’t necessarily see it as a conflict with her party’s ideas. Jackson understands “pro-life” policies as including those that affect children who are already born. Domestic violence bills and early childhood education are part of her pro-life agenda -- not just clinic regulations. Opposition to abortion and Democratic ideas seem to follow one another in her eyes -- and she’s apparently not alone in thinking that either.

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Democrats in her state regularly support pro-life measures. That includes the hotly-contested heartbeat legislation which Jackson’s Democratic governor signed into law last year. At the executive level, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards is an anomaly like Jackson.

The Democratic Party overwhelmingly opposes abortion restrictions and 2020 candidates have lent unprecedented support to the procedure. Former Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a perceived moderate who exited the race Saturday, caught flak when he seemingly refused to support restrictions on infanticide.

During a Fox News town hall in February, Democrats for Life executive director Kristen Day was told by Buttigieg that he wasn’t going to lie to get her vote: He plainly believed the decision to end a pregnancy should ultimately rest in the mother’s hands. According to Day, Buttigieg’s position, as well as her party’s platform, is wildly out of step with not just the American electorate, but rank-and-file Democrats as well.

In January, a Marist poll showed 44 percent of Democrats said they were "more likely to vote for" candidates who would limit abortion to the first trimester. Gallup’s historical trends similarly showed that Americans consistently said they wanted abortions to be legal under only certain, rather than all, circumstances. The Democratic platform, to Day’s chagrin, doesn’t include any explicit limits on abortion.

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The issue for Jackson is personal, as unrestricted abortion has a disproportionate impact on the African-American community. Abortion rates have tended to be relatively large for African Americans — creating what Jackson describes as a “genocide,” and making her race a “minority of the minority.”

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It’s “profitable,” she argues, for the nation’s largest abortion provider – which Jackson describes as “the enemy” – to shed “innocent blood” while “destroying our communities.” During Lipinski’s fundraiser, she targeted Planned Parenthood’s $45 million-effort to influence the 2020 elections, which she said shows how outside entities inappropriately influence local contests.

“I think $45 million is obscene to support killing babies is obscene — in one year,” she said. “For $45 million, we could build shelters for women all over this nation. For $45 million, we can put people to work all over this nation. We could eradicate the need for abortion based on poverty.”