Democratic National Committee Chairman Thomas Perez caused an uproar with pro-life Democrats when he released a statement in April stating that the Democratic Party's commitment to "choice" is non-negotiable.
"Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman's right to make her own choices about her body and her health. That is not negotiable," Perez said in the statement.
Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, along with other Democrats for Life board members and pro-life Democrat political figures, met with Perez and DNC staff June 27 to discuss the state of the Democratic Party and the pro-life cause.
"I feel that it was a first step and I think we have a lot of work to do, to continue to educate people," Day said in an interview with Catholic News Service June 29. "I think a lot of Democrats are still in denial that we are in trouble (as a party), and we need to start recognizing that."
Since 2010, the Democratic Party has lost over 1,000 legislative seats. With 68 of 99 state legislative chambers currently in Republican control, the Democratic Party is in its lowest numbers since 1928, according to Day.
"Republicans have full control over 27 states, meaning governor, statehouse and state senate," Day said. "Democrats are down to four states having full control."
Day pointed back to the 2016 Utah Senate race where pro-life Democrat Jonathan Swinton ran for the Democratic seat and won in the caucus, but the DNC chose to back Misty Snow, a Democratic candidate who supported legal abortion. Snow then became the Democratic nominee for the Utah Senate but lost by 41 points to the Republican nominee. Swinton explained what happened in that election in the meeting between Democrats for Life and DNC staff.
According to Day, the DNC tells pro-life Democratic candidates that they cannot run as pro-life Democrats, particularly in the Omaha, Nebraska, mayoral election with Democrat Heath Mello.
"When a pro-life Democrat decides to run, the Democratic consultants come in and they tell you, 'Well, you can't run as a pro-life Democrat,' and they urge you to change your position on life, like they did with Heath Mello," Day said.
In early May, Mello lost the Omaha mayoral election when the DNC received criticism from NARAL Pro-Choice America for the DNC chairman's support of pro-life Democrat Mello. This led to Mello making a statement that while he was pro-life, he would not vote as such, according to Day.
"That was such a mistake at the end of the campaign," Day said. "To have a pro-life Democrat, and for him to go in right at the end of the campaign and say, 'I'm pro-life, but I'm not going to vote that way. That was a huge tactical error."
In comments on the meeting with Democrats for Life, the DNC touched on the party's claim to openness.
"Our party has always welcomed different opinions on several issues and Tom (Perez) is committed to listening to all Democrats as we work to rebuild our party," said Xochitl Hinojosa, DNC communications director, in a statement sent to CNS. "Our party platform makes clear that Democrats trust women to make their own choices about their body and their health, and Tom stands by this."
At the meeting June 27, Democrats for Life put forth a list of requests to the DNC asking for greater acceptance into the party.
"We asked for a clear statement from the chairman stating that we are welcoming to pro-life Democrats and we welcome them to vote their conscience on these issues, that we are not an abortion-only party," Day said.
Going forward, the dialogue remains open between Democrats for Life and the DNC.
"The chairman is meeting with us and we are continuing to talk to the DNC staff," Day said. "We are continuing to work with them to try to find a way for pro-life Democrats to be participating members of the DNC and not have to hide their pro-life convictions."