NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Seeking traction for his stalled presidential campaign, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal boasted to anti-abortion activists Thursday that he leads the "most pro-life state" in the country, and sought to position himself as a warrior for conservative Christians.
Jindal's speech at the National Right to Life Convention comes as he tries to separate himself among more than a dozen Republican White House hopefuls who also describe themselves as social conservatives.
"The left wants to take God out of the public square," Jindal told delegates after linking Supreme Court's recent decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide to the 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationally. As he has in recent campaign stops, Jindal quipped that "if the court is just going to be a public opinion poll ... we should just get rid of it."
Now, Jindal said, the fight has shifted to whether individuals will be forced to acknowledge the rulings in their official or professional capacities.
"You've got folks going after business, individuals, churches and pastors for their sincerely held religious beliefs," Jindal argued, adding a dig at the Democratic party's favorite for 2016.
"When Hillary Clinton or President Obama talk about religious expression," Jindal said, "all they mean is that for an hour or two a week in church you can say what you want. That's not religious freedom. Religious freedom is the ability to live our lives 24 hours a day, 7 days a week according to our sincerely held beliefs."
Earlier this year, Jindal signed an executive order intended to protect individuals in Louisiana who refused, in their official or professional capacities, to act in a way that violates their religious belief that marriage should be confined to heterosexual couples. The American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups have asked a state court to invalidate the order, saying it exceeds Jindal's authority.
The legal nuances of Jindal's power are less important than the symbolism for the governor as he courts social conservatives who hold considerable sway in GOP primaries. Jindal, who languishes at the bottom of many national GOP presidential polls, has worked particularly hard to reach evangelical Christian voters in Iowa, where fellow conservative Christians Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum won in 2008 and 2012, respectively.
Jindal argued that too many Republican leaders are timid in their approaches on social issues. He singled out Jeb Bush for saying a candidate "must be willing to lose the primary to win the general (election)." The former Florida governor, who opposes abortion rights and same-sex marriage, made the comment without referring to any particular issue. Nonetheless, Jindal boomed Friday, "I've got a radical idea for the Republican Party: How about we embrace our own principles?"
Jindal noted that he's signed a bevy of abortion restrictions in his two terms, helping win Louisiana the ranking as the "most pro-life state for the last six years," according to Americans United for Life.
Still, a recent analysis of abortion statistics by the Associated Press found that Louisiana was one of just two states — the other was Michigan — where abortions increased from 2010 to 2014. Abortions increased 12 percent in Louisiana in that period; 18.5 percent in Michigan. Some of the increases are attributed to women who traveled to Louisiana and Michigan from other states that have restricted women's access to the procedures.
Nationwide, the AP survey showed a decrease in abortions of about 12 percent since 2010.
Four of Jindal's GOP rivals are scheduled to speak Friday at the convention. They include Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
Associated Press writer David Crary contributed to this report.
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