NEWS
05/16/2017 15:43 EDT | Updated 05/19/2017 14:46 EDT

Party chairman to meet anti-abortion Democratic group

DES MOINES, Iowa — Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez plans to meet with an anti-abortion Democratic group amid divisions within the party over whether to back candidates opposed to abortion.

Democrats for Life Executive Director Kristen Day said Tuesday that the DNC and her group were in talks about scheduling a meeting with Perez, who proclaimed last month it is "not negotiable" that "every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman's right to make her own choices about her body and her health."

Perez's statement drew sharp criticism from anti-abortion Democrats. Like Day, they argued that Democrats need to open their doors to different viewpoints on the sensitive issue, given the party's shrinking national profile.

"I think he thinks it was a mistake to put out that statement," Day said. "I'm encouraged we're meeting and we're going to have this discussion. I think it's important."

Democrats for Life requested the meeting with Perez before the Democratic National Committee announced last month it would hold a rally in Omaha, Nebraska, for mayoral candidate Heath Mello, a former state senator who supported abortion restrictions.

News of the rally sparked outcry from National Abortion Rights Action League President Ilyse Hogue, who called support for Mello "politically stupid."

Perez quickly backtracked, pledging that if anti-abortion Democrats "try to legislate or govern that way, we will take them on."

Meanwhile, independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders went on to headline the April rally in Omaha, urging Democrats to support Mello. He lost the mayoral race on May 9.

Anti-abortion Democrats have almost disappeared in Congress. Only three senators fit the description, and all three — Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — are up for re-election next year in states President Donald Trump won in 2016.

Perez's plan to meet with the group was first reported in The Atlantic.