Joan Barry’s request seemed simple enough. She asked her state Democratic Party to acknowledge that their members have a “diversity of views on abortion.”
And initially, the Missouri Democrat’s proposal was accepted. The party platform committee, of which she was a member, approved her amendment in June.
But everything changed when abortion activists found out.
In an interview with the New York Times this week, Barry explained what happened next and why it was “the final nail in the coffin” for her.
A former state representative, the St. Louis woman said she has been a member of the Missouri Democratic Party for 53 years. Two years ago, she said she joined a group of Democrats traveling across the state to understand why they lost the election to President Donald Trump and how they could reform their party.
According to the report:
They talked to residents in community centers, libraries and union halls about what the party should stand for.
Ms. Barry thought her plank might help the party reclaim some districts that seemed hopelessly lost to Republicans.
She worried that the Democratic Party had moved too far left on abortion. Gone were the days when the party, under President Bill Clinton, called for abortion to be “safe, legal and rare.” She also noticed fellow Democrats showing contempt for her when they learned her stance on abortion.
On June 30, she introduced an amendment to encourage a more welcoming stance on different abortion views, and the platform committee passed it.
The amendment 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.”
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The amendment hardly seemed controversial for a party that praises diversity and inclusion. Democrats for Life estimates more than 23 million Democrats in the U.S. are pro-life. In 2016, Pew Research found that 28 percent of Democrats say abortion should be illegal in most or all cases. A Marist/KofC poll found similar results.
Everything changed, though, when abortion activists learned about the vote. Barry said she began receiving angry messages and hinted that some of them were threatening.
“My daughter called me and said, ‘Mom, your life is in danger,’ ” Barry remembered. “‘You’d better get some mace.’”
One of the individuals inciting the outrage was Pamela Merritt, an abortion activist who also serves on the platform committee. According to the report, Merritt did not attend the meeting but heard about it afterward.
She described Barry’s amendment as “bizarre, regressive anti-woman language,” and led the fight to strip it from the platform. She succeeded. In August, the state party reversed its decision and voted to remove the amendment.
In a statement after the vote, Missouri Democrat chairman Stephen Webber implied strongly that pro-lifers are not welcome in the party anymore. He said Democrats should display an unwavering commitment to abortion on demand (“reproductive healthcare”).
Interestingly, the wording of Barry’s amendment is similar to the 1996 national Democratic Party platform, according to the newspaper. Since then, however, the party has adopted increasingly radical pro-abortion platforms. In 2016, the DNC approved a platform calling for full support of abortion for any reason up to birth and taxpayer funding of abortions. Both are widely unpopular positions among the general public.
The move – and the party’s increasingly radical pro-abortion position – may backfire. According to a recent Gallup poll, just 29 percent of Americans want unlimited abortions up to birth.
Several prominent Missouri Democrats told the newspaper that the party made a mistake by scrapping Barry’s amendment.
“When you become contemptuous of conservative Democrats, you promote the election of their opponents,” said Christopher Kelly, a retired judge and former Missouri state lawmaker. “And their opponents are 100 percent worse for the environment, 100 percent worse for working people, 100 percent worse for L.G.B.T. people, for women, for black people, for immigrants.”
Former Democrat governor Jay Nixon said pro-abortion progressives are energetic but they are just a small part of the party.
“I consider Joan a rational, reasonable person,” Nixon said. “She was trying to solve problems, not cause them.”
Barry said she has not left the Democratic Party, but she clearly is frustrated.
“I love the Democratic Party and I love what it stands for, but it’s like they were saying you are not part of us,” she said.