Former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is pushing back on criticism from pro-choice activists for his support of a Democratic mayoral candidate who once backed pro-life legislation in Nebraska.
Sanders, in the midst of a Democratic National Committee “unity tour” with DNC Chair Tom Perez, told NPR on Thursday that he wants Omaha, Nebraska, mayoral candidate Heath Mello to win. Sanders campaigned for Mello during the tour.
According to NPR, during his time in Nebraska’s unicameral legislature, Mello supported several pro-life bills, including a measure requiring doctors performing abortions to inform patients that ultrasounds are available to them.
Mello recently said in a statement to the Huffington Post that he is personally opposed to abortion.
“While my faith guides my personal views, as mayor, I would never do anything to restrict access to reproductive health care,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Mello also told the Huffington Post that the candidate “has fought against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and fought against defunding Planned Parenthood.”
In a statement, Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice, attacked Sanders for his support of Mello.
“The actions today by the DNC to embrace and support a candidate for office who will strip women – one of the most critical constituencies for the party – of our basic rights and freedom is not only disappointing, it is politically stupid,” Hogue said. “Today’s action make this so-called ‘fight back tour’ look more like a throwback tour for women and our rights.
“If Democrats think the path forward following the 2016 election is to support candidates who substitute their own judgment and ideology for that of their female constituents, they have learned all the wrong lessons and are bound to lose,” she 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.”
Politico noted that the liberal website, Daily Kos, withdrew its endorsement of Mello after learning of his support of the pro-life bills.
In remarks to NPR, Sanders, who is pro-choice, argued that “the truth is that in some conservative states there will be candidates that are popular candidates who may not agree with me on every issue.”
“I understand it,” Sanders said. “That’s what politics is about.”
Sanders said if Democrats “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,” he said. “But I think you just can’t exclude people who disagree with us on one issue.”
Perez said in a statement to NPR that “the Democratic Party’s platform states clearly our support for every woman’s right to make their own choices about their reproductive health and to have access to safe abortion services.”
“As DNC chair, I stand by that position unequivocally, as I have my entire life,” he said.
— Scott Detrow (@scottdetrow) April 20, 2017