Dems Delay Abortion Vote to Protect Bel Edwards

Anti-abortion constitutional amendment vote pushed to 2020 for 'strategic reasons'

Gov. John Bel Edwards / Getty Images
June 7, 2019

Louisiana Democrats chose to delay a ballot initiative on abortion due to a calculation that it could hurt 2019 reelection bids by Democrats such as Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Legislation introduced by pro-life Democratic state representative Katrina Jackson was initially written to put an anti-abortion constitutional amendment on the ballot this October. But she altered those plans after deciding for "strategic reasons" the vote should occur in 2020 instead.

"I am always concerned that what I do does not impact my colleagues' elections, that I don't skew the elections," Jackson told Vice reporter Shawna Thomas.

"For strategic reasons the sponsor of the amendment, State Representative Katrina Jackson, pulled it from the floor," Thomas explained. "If it had been passed, the constitutional change would have ended up on the ballot this October, Jackson wants it to be voted on in November 2020 instead. It was an example of Jackson balancing the fact that she's staunchly anti-abortion against the fact that she's also a Democrat."

Jackson further admitted during the interview that the decision to push the amendment back a year was a compromise between "pro-life Democrats and non-pro-life Democrats."

"I'm gonna put it in conference committee to add the amendment that pro-life Democrats and non-pro-life Democrats attempted to add, and that's to have this vote go down during the presidential election," Jackson said during the interview, which can be viewed in full below.

Abortion issues have taken center-stage in Louisiana in the final weeks of the legislative session, with Bel Edwards going against party leadership and signing a bill to prohibit abortions once a heartbeat is detected. The constitutional amendment would ban almost all abortions in Louisiana should Roe v. Wade be overturned.

The issue is complicated for Bel Edwards, who has worked to position himself as a pro-life Democrat in the deep red southern state where a majority of adults believe abortion should be illegal. A decision to spike the bipartisan heartbeat bill would have been crippling, but signing the bill alienated him from national groups and will likely depress enthusiasm for him amongst pro-choice voters in the state.

Stephanie Grace, a columinist for the Baton Rouge-based Advocate, explained yesterday why it would be a disadvantage for Bel Edwards to have the constitutional amendment on the ballot this year.

Edwards is running for reelection in a race in which Republicans are busy painting him as too liberal for Louisiana. One way the governor counters the charge is to point to his anti-abortion record—which as of last week, includes his signature on a harsh separate bill that would mostly prohibit abortion after six weeks, even when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

His position has surely helped him on the right, but his signature on the so-called fetal heartbeat bill has infuriated some of his backers on the left. And a less-than-enthusiastic showing by his base on October could spell trouble.

So Edwards has good reason to not want a measure spelling out that abortion is illegal in Louisiana should Roe v. Wade fall on the same ballot as his reelection. A simultaneous campaign over the issue might fire up anti-abortion activists, who are likely to vote Republican despite Edwards' stance. And it would surely remind abortion rights supporters who are otherwise inclined to turn out for him that on this important issue, he's not on their side.

Bel Edwards remains popular in Louisiana, but recent polling has shown he is a vulnerable target for Republicans, who control both chambers of the legislature. Bel Edwards was first elected in 2015, when he succeeded term-limited Republican Bobby Jindal.