Missouri Democrats created a firestorm of controversy in June when their leaders added an amendment to the party’s platform aimed at welcoming candidates who oppose abortion rights.
On Saturday, the party’s central committee reversed course and voted unanimously to remove the anti-abortion language.
“We made a mistake,” said Annie Rice, an alderwoman in St. Louis who tried unsuccessfully in June to block the amendment from being added to the platform. “Abortion is a legal healthcare procedure, and as a party we must support access.”
The amendment added in June stated that “we respect the conscience of each Missourian and recognize that members of our party have deeply held and sometimes differing positions on issues of personal conscience, such as abortion. We recognize the diversity of views as a source of strength, and welcome into our ranks all Missourians who may hold differing positions on this issue.”
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That was removed Saturday and replaced with “A woman’s right to choose and the right of every person to their own bodily autonomy and to be free from government intrusion in medical decisions, including a decision to carry a pregnancy to term, and oppose any efforts to limit access to reproductive health care.”
Also added to the platform was a preamble that Rice said was designed to make it clear that while the platform reflects the party’s values, candidates must articulate their own policy positions when engaging with voters.
Joan Barry, a former Democratic state lawmaker from St. Louis County who introduced the amendment in June, abstained from voting on the platform change on Saturday. She said Monday afternoon that she was disappointed by the change but it will not stop her from working to help get Democrats elected this fall.
“Diversity has been a matter of strength in this party,” Barry said. “I just felt that we needed to be sure pro-life Democrats are recognized as members of the party. Some people in the electorate don’t believe that you can be pro-life and be a Democrat. But that’s not true. We are Democrats. And I’ll do everything I can to help the party this fall.”
Stephen Webber, Missouri Democratic Party chairman, told The Star on Monday that discussion of the platform Saturday wasn’t contentious, demonstrating that the party is unified heading into the fall campaign.
“We got it right, and the final product is something that can unify the whole party,” Webber said.
The controversy over the abortion platform plank was magnified by its timing. The party adopted the anti-abortion amendment a day after Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, signed a budget cutting off funding from Planned Parenthood and soon after U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement, thus opening the possibility that the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion could be overturned.
GOP super majorities in the Missouri legislature along with a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court means “the right to access abortion care is in more danger now than ever,” said Alison Dreith, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri.
“Democrats needs to step up and fight for women, the base of the party, and their quick reversal on the disappointing vote to include anti-choice language in the party platform shows they’re ready to do that,” she said. “The Democratic Party’s overwhelming vote to re-prioritize reproductive freedom has put the party back on track just in time to pick up wins in November. This vote just goes to show that when women organize, women win.”
Rachel Sweet, regional director of public policy and organizing for Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, praised Saturday’s vote.
”Democrats across the state have let their party leaders know that a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions is non-negotiable,” Sweet said. “With access to safe, legal abortion on the line nationally, this fight is more important than ever before.”
A national organization called Democrats for Life of America decried the change, arguing that the party has been unsuccessful over the last decade in Missouri because it has “has worked to silence whole-life voters.”
“At what point will the abortion-rights progressives be held accountable for prioritizing their single issue above the health and success of the Democratic Party?” said Kristen Day, executive director of the Virginia-based Democrats for Life of America.