Sen. Bernie Sanders is under fire by some pro-choice activists for his decision to join Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez in supporting a Democratic candidate who has, in the past, taken public stances that oppose or restrict abortion.
But Sanders, who is supporting Heath Mello, Democratic candidate for mayor of Omaha, Nebraska, doesn’t seem to be backing away despite some pretty heavy critiques from NARAL Pro-Choice America, a group that champions abortion rights.
In fact, NARAL President Ilyse Hogue released a statement this week calling the support that Sanders and Perez have offered to Mello “not only disappointing” but also “politically stupid.”
— NARAL (@NARAL) April 20, 2017
“If Democrats think the path forward following the 2016 election is to support candidates who substitute their own judgement and ideology for that of their female constituents, they have learned all the wrong lessons and are bound to lose,” Hogue continued. “It’s not possible to have an authentic conversation about economic security for women that does not include our ability to decide when and how we have children.”
Sanders, though, seemingly has no plans to stop campaigning for Mello, telling NPR that he wants to see him win his mayoral race. He also expressed his belief that there will sometimes be Democratic candidates in more conservative states who will be popular, yet who won’t necessarily agree with Sanders on every issue.
“I understand it. That’s what politics is about,” he said. “If we are going to protect a woman’s right to choose, at the end of the day we’re going to need Democratic control over the House and the Senate, and state governments all over this nation. And we have got to appreciate where people come from, and do our best to fight for the pro-choice agenda.”
Sanders continued, “But I think you just can’t exclude people who disagree with us on one issue.”
The former Democratic presidential candidate did note during Thursday night’s rally for Mello that the mayoral candidate faces an uphill battle in such a Republican state, perhaps underscoring his aforementioned point: Democratic candidates in conservative states might not share every social or political value that is embraced by the national party platform.
“Maybe, just maybe it’s time to change one party rule in Nebraska,” Sanders said during the rally, according to KETV-TV. “And we can start right here by electing Heath Mello as the next mayor.”
As for Mello, he told The Huffington Post on Wednesday that, if elected mayor, he “would never do anything to restrict access to reproductive health care.” That said, he affirmed his personal opposition to abortion and said his faith guides his “personal views.”
The Huffington Post also noted that Mello had co-sponsored a 2009 bill as a former Democratic state senator to mandate that women have an ultrasound before undergoing an abortion procedure.
Regardless of what happens for Mello at the polls next month, Sanders’ support is particularly interesting in light of just how strongly Sanders feels about abortion rights. When asked during a Fox News town hall last year if he would ever support restrictions on abortion after 20 weeks, the then-presidential candidate was candid and offered no support for restrictions.
“I am very strongly pro-choice,” he said. “That is a choice to be made between a woman, her physician and her family.”
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