Louisiana Candidate Katie Darling On Giving Birth In Her Viral Campaign Ad
“People shouldn't have to leave their home state to feel safe, and to have kids, and have reproductive care.”
A candidate kissing a baby, loving parents cuddling on the couch with their beaming children, hard-working constituents trading stories in a diner booth: These are the images we’ve come to expect from political campaign ads. But Katie Darling, who just released her first campaign ad as a candidate for congress from Louisiana, has delivered something nobody expected: Footage of herself giving birth to her son.
The opening shots of the ad feature a blond child running on a farm, feeding chickens in Instagram-perfect light, a pregnant woman in the background. They evoke a traditional celebration of American life, but Darling’s voiceover immediately places her outside of conservative politics. “These days, I worry,” she says. “About storms, that are stronger and more frequent because of climate change... and about Louisiana's new abortion ban, one of the strictest and most severe in the country.”
Darling’s ad shifts from the farm where she lives with her husband and daughter to a St. Tammany Parish hospital, where we watch her deliver a baby. Her campaign, she is clear, is based on the principle that all women deserve reproductive health care and choices. “We should be putting pregnant women at ease, not putting their lives at risk,” she asserts in the voice over, as we watch her — peaceful, determined, safely supported in one of the more dangerous moments of an adult woman's life — push and push to deliver her child.
The epic 75-second journey closes with Darling draped in a hospital gown, nursing her son for the first time. She looks at the camera, saying, “I'm Katie Darling, and I'm running for Congress... for you, for her, and for him.”
That little boy is just 3 weeks old when Darling and I connect on the phone to talk. Darling’s candidacy is not much older. An account executive for a Louisiana tech company, Darling decided to run this summer, shortly after Roe V. Wade was overturned, and is taking on a heavily favored incumbent, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, who has held the seat for 14 years and last won with 72% of the vote. Her campaign may be a long shot in a very red state, but Darling is a powerful symbol of the way in which the issue of abortion — and many women’s fierce belief that they have the right to it as a fundamental part of health care — have upturned this year’s midterms. Democrats are no longer shying away from mentioning abortion; they realize that voters want to hear a full-throated defense of reproductive freedom. Darling has placed her own pregnancy at the forefront of her political fight.
I asked her about running an underdog Congressional campaign, how the end of Roe V. Wade marked the beginning of her involvement in politics, and what it felt like to decide to run for office seven months into a high-risk pregnancy.
Your campaign ad really resonated with a lot of people I know — especially mothers. It is very striking to see a very pregnant woman talking about abortion. Before we get into the ad itself, can you share how you decided to run? This is your first experience in politics, correct?
Yes, it is. I was seven months pregnant when Roe was overturned this summer. I had a high risk pregnancy, and I was terrified by Louisiana's abortion ban. It was a trigger law that went into effect immediately when Roe was overturned. At that moment I looked at my husband and said, ‘We have to move. I don't feel safe being pregnant here.’ I've had complications in previous pregnancies, so it was a very real threat for me.
“Forcing people to have children doesn’t create healthy families or healthy environments for children to be brought into the world.”
My first reaction was we have to move, but then I calmed down and said, “OK, well if we don't protect women's rights, if we don't protect reproductive freedom around the country, eventually we won't have anywhere to move to to be safe.” People shouldn't have to leave their home state to feel safe, and to have kids, and have reproductive care. So, I called the Democratic Party, and that's how I became the candidate. My first intention was to support other candidates running and it evolved to me being the candidate.
So, were you eight months pregnant when you decided that you were going to run for congress? I'm just trying to track the timeline.
Yeah, I mean, it was pretty immediate. Like once Roe V. Wade was overturned, that was like the last week of June. And then the third week of July is when I qualified as a candidate.
And you gave birth recently, yes?
And then I gave birth, yeah. On September 14th.
OK, so — let's talk about the ad, because it's really powerful. I am curious about the evolution of the idea for the ad itself. It feels to me like a powerful upturning of expectations. In many ways, it's the oldest narrative ever: a mother and childbirth and all of the many things contained within that concept. But in your ad, this “traditional” narrative of family life, home life, motherhood is used to make a point about the importance of protecting reproductive rights in America.
It's just my story, just my life. We bought our farm in St. Tammany Parish in 2019, and then the pandemic happened. We kind of took up farming as a hobby, but it grew into a very serious passion for my husband and me. We've been focusing on sustainability goals, and fell in love with agriculture. I wasn't a person who ever really planned on getting married or having kids, but here I am — and now I’m putting myself out there and I'm sharing my family.
First, I'm very proud of my family. My husband and my daughter have just a heart of gold. They are precious spirits, precious human beings to me. I wanted to show my beautiful family, and share that reproductive health care is a part of creating healthy families. Forcing people to have children doesn’t create healthy families or healthy environments for children to be brought into the world. I believe that folks being empowered to make choices about when and how they bring children into the world is how you have healthy families.
“I don't think what I'm running on is that progressive, in my opinion. We want access to education and healthcare. We want to be safe during natural disasters. These are just standard things. It's wild that they're considered progressive.”
I want to communicate that and share my story, but also share that pregnancy is a very serious medical condition. It is a life-or-death medical condition that needs to be handled in a doctor's office with a patient and should not be managed by legislators in Washington or in Baton Rouge. It is a private and intimate medical situation and it should be handled that way. Unfortunately, they've taken it out of the hands of patients, out of the hands of doctors and put it into the hands of legislators, which is inappropriate and it is an overreach. I wanted to communicate the harm that this kind of legislation causes in an approachable and relatable way by just sharing my story and how it impacts me.
You said your own pregnancy and previous pregnancies were high risk, is that right? It seems like that’s a big piece of your own reproductive experience.
Both of my pregnancies were high risk. My ovaries just react really poorly to pregnancy hormones, and so that's something that I have to manage while pregnant.
How has it been, being in Louisiana, since Roe V. Wade was overturned? Did the abortion ban affect your labor and delivery experience this time?
I am so fortunate. I received incredible care at St. Tammany Parish Hospital, and I had a very successful birth. My first birth was really tough and we had complications and there was an emergency situation. We were prepared for things like that to happen again, but luckily everything went very smoothly this time.
I’m so glad to hear it! Can you talk to me about the logistics of including your birth experience in this video? I assume you had to have a videographer in the room while you were in labor?
Yeah, we had one videographer in the room during the birth, and they were very sensitive to the moment and the circumstance. We weren't sure how the birth was going to go, so we weren't sure that we would even be able to film the birth — if there was an emergency C-section or just an emergency birth. But it did come together. I was induced at 39 weeks, which was my doctor's recommendation, so we were able to schedule the induction and it just worked out that the videographer could be there to film that moment.
“I believe that folks being empowered to make choices about when and how they bring children into the world is how you have healthy families.”
In this campaign, you're up against someone who's been in his seat for 14 years. How has the response been to your campaign so far? Where do you feel your community is right now on the subject of women's rights and reproductive health rights? Do you feel like you have a chance here? I mean, obviously you see an opportunity — but do you feel hopeful? To be totally frank, do you think you can win?
Well, I will say that there has never been a moment like this one in the 14 years that Steve Scalise has been in office. The overturning of Roe V. Wade was the last straw for myself, but many polls say that the majority of Americans do not support the overturning of Roe V. Wade, and believe strongly — from their personal experiences and the experiences of their loved ones — that the folks passing this legislation have overreached. That the legislation goes too far. I am counting on those people to show up at the polls and vote differently this November. There's also a group of people who watched the Insurrection on January 6th, and that was a last straw for a lot of folks who really stand by democracy and stand by our election system. I think it is really dishonorable what occurred that day. The incumbent in this district is someone who has cemented his alliance with Donald Trump and with the insurrection. So, there are folks that I believe, in this moment, are considering voting differently because of these extreme circumstances.
I may be considered a progressive candidate, but I truly don't feel that any of the issues that I'm running on should be partisan issues. I believe that the issues I'm running on are things that support the quality of life for all people. A message that I am trying to communicate is that Louisiana ranks 50 out of 50 in quality of life in the United States, and our representatives have not improved that for constituents with decades of power.
I don't care what party a person is associated with — we have work to do. We just had Hurricane Ida last year. That was a severe storm. Folks are still recovering from that. We had [hurricane] Laura just down the road in Lake Charles. Folks are still recovering from that. And so people feel the pain here at home in many areas. We need representatives who are going to advocate for us. I believe that those people will show up to the polls this November, and it would be a historic event if we went to a runoff. If I won, it would be a historic election. That is what I'm planning for. That's what I'm out to make happen. I'm clear that it is an uphill battle and that it's a challenge, but I'm counting on people to show up.
And it’s simple. The Supreme Court did not need to mess with Roe V. Wade. It's unfortunate how this played out. It's 2022. I don't think what I'm running on is that progressive, in my opinion. This is just access to health care — we want access to education and healthcare. We want to be safe during natural disasters that are happening all around the country. I mean, these are just standard things. It's wild that they're considered progressive.
What has the response to the ad been like so far? Do you feel like this ad is reaching the people that you want it to reach?
Considering that abortion is quite a hot topic right now, I am so grateful that the response to the ad has been 99% positive. There's been a very little negative comment. And I am moved by a lot of the positive comments that folks are sharing. We haven't received much negativity at all, and that gives me some hope.
Is there anything else that you want our readers to know?
I think it's important for folks to know that Louisiana has a high maternal mortality rate, and that particularly women of color suffer from a lack of adequate health care and reproductive justice in Louisiana. This abortion ban is hurting our most vulnerable communities the most at this time. It is not acceptable for our legislators to not acknowledge that harmful impact. We need to take care of our citizens, and we need to take care of our most at-risk groups. [Louisiana’s abortion ban] does the opposite.