Missouri Democrats on Saturday voted to affirm reproductive rights as part of the state party platform and to remove language adopted in June welcoming anti-choice Democratic candidates.
Stephen Webber, chair of the Missouri Democratic Party, called the meeting to address the issue of reproductive rights, Jalen Anderson told Rewire.News. Anderson, a state committee member and chair of the platform committee, said he didn’t think the language endorsed this summer reflected the values of the majority of party members or of the state Democratic Party.
“What was sad to see and hear were the amount of emails and phone calls I got from people all around the state, from the bootheel to the Northeast, Northwest, saying my personal beliefs would say that I am pro-life, but they disagreed with limiting a woman’s right to choose,” Anderson said. “They didn’t believe the Democratic Party was standing up for their values here in Missouri.”
The anti-choice language adopted into the platform on June 30 was nearly identical to language on the website of anti-choice group Democrats for Life of America (DFLA). It read: “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.”
Sixty-one of 68 members voted on Saturday in support of removing the language, with two abstentions, two vacancies, and three absences. Former state Rep. Joan Barry, who introduced the anti-choice amendment in June, voted on Saturday to remove the language and adopt the new platform, according to Sarah Felts, a Planned Parenthood staffer who attended the meeting. Barry did not respond to a request for comment from Rewire.News.
The platform now states that the Democratic Party supports: “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.” The platform goes on to show support for: “A requirement that all Crisis Pregnancy Centers be obligated to provide medically accurate information and be ineligible for state funding if medical professionals are not employed.”
The Missouri Republican Party platform rejects Roe v. Wade and seeks to take away the constitutional right to abortion.
“Missouri Democrats are strongest when we fight together,” Webber said in a statement on Facebook. “Democrats will continue to fight to defend the full spectrum of women’s reproductive rights ensured in Roe v. Wade, including the right to safely end a pregnancy, to safely carry a pregnancy to term, and the right to raise your family in a safe and healthy environment.”
Pamela Merritt, a longtime reproductive justice activist in Missouri and member of the state party’s platform committee, said she received calls and emails from Missourians angry over the anti-choice platform language.
“The platform committee did an amazing job and I’m so proud of the work the committee did,” Merritt told Rewire.News. “That one member of the committee would derail over a year’s worth of work was disturbing and sad.”
Merritt said the consensus at the Saturday meeting was that the language needed to be changed. There was little discussion about the change, she said, and members quickly moved to vote in support of reproductive rights.
“I think Missourians are passionately in support of access to the full range of reproductive health care, and the overwhelming majority of the Democratic Party clearly supported having unambiguous and unapologetic language in the platform, and the wavering that did initially take place I think was more about confusion and the actions of one bad actor than it was of the overall view of the party,” Merritt said. “I think this is a lesson to the party that Missourians overwhelmingly do not want to move back into the pre-Roe days.”
Missouri has some of the most restrictive laws in the US when it comes to accessing reproductive health care, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and is one of five states with a forced 72-hour waiting period to receive abortion care.
“We have lived under the tyranny of pro-life minority rule in Missouri for a decade, and we have the bad health outcomes and bad overall social indexes to show for it,” Merritt said. “So I think this overall fight has made us stronger and clarified exactly how passionate and committed Democrats are to reproductive health care in Missouri.”
UPDATE: This story has been updated to correctly quote Jalen Anderson.