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Democrats conflicted on whether there is room for pro-lifers in the party

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), greets DNC Chairman Tom Perez on stage as he gets ready to speak to a crowd of supporters at a Democratic unity rally Friday in Salt Lake City. After Perez said that the party’s position on abortion is “not negotiable,” Democratic lawmakers offered differing positions on whether there is room in the party for those who are opposed to abortion. (George Frey/Getty Images)

After Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said last week that the party’s position on abortion is “not negotiable,” Democratic lawmakers offered differing positions on whether there is room in the party for those who are opposed to abortion.

Last week, former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) faced backlash from pro-choice activists for his support of Heath Mello, a Democratic mayoral candidate in Omaha, Nebraska, who once backed pro-life bills as a member of the state’s legislature. Sanders campaigned with Mello during a DNC “unity tour.”

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice, attacked Sanders’ support of Mello as “politically stupid.” Other pro-choice activists criticized Sanders as well.

Sanders, who is pro-choice, argued that the Democratic Party should not exclude popular Democratic candidates in red states because they “disagree with us on one issue.”

In the wake of a controversy in the party over Sanders’ support of Mello, Perez said in a statement to the Huffington Post that “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 and should not change city by city or state by state,” he said. “At a time when women’s rights are under assault from the White House, the Republican Congress, and in states across the country, we must speak up for this principle as loudly as ever and with one voice.”

The Huffington Post noted that Perez initially defended the DNC’s embrace of Mello before his Friday statement.

Following Perez’s statement that support for abortion is “not negotiable” for the Democratic party, Sanders and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) appeared to push back on his remarks.

In an interview on "Face the Nation" on Sunday, Sanders reiterated his support of Mello and said that the Democratic Party should be “a grassroots party”:

If we’re going to become a 50-state party, if you’re going to go to Omaha, Nebraska, which has a Republican governor, two Republican senators, all Republican congresspeople, Republican legislature, you know what? And if in Omaha, 5,000 or 6,000 people come out to a rally led by Jane Kleeb, their new Democratic chairperson, who is doing a great job, and if you have a rally in which you have the labor movement and the environmentalists and Native Americans and the African-American community and the Latino community coming together, saying, we want this guy to become our next mayor, should I reject going there to Omaha?

Pelosi said on NBC's "Meet The Press" Sunday that “of course” Democrats can be pro-life.

"I have served many years in Congress with members who have not shared my very positive, my family would say aggressive, position on promoting a woman's right to choose," she said.

On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that the Democratic Party is “a big tent party” and “a pro-choice party.”

"Look, we're a big tent party as Nancy Pelosi said, but we are, let's make no mistake about it, we’re a pro-choice party," Schumer said. "We're a strongly pro-choice party. We think that's where the American people are, and in fact, if anything, are moving even more in that direction."

In an interview on CNN Sunday, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) appeared to back Perez’s position, arguing that those who are opposed to abortion are only welcome in the party if they are prepared to support policies that safeguard abortion.

"I am committed to women's rights under the law, reproductive rights certainly, and our party is," he said. "We've made that part of our platform and position for a long, long time.”

He added that “within the ranks of the Democratic Party, there are those who see that differently on a personal basis, but when it comes to the policy position, I think we need to be clear and unequivocal.

"We need to be understanding of those who take a different position, because of personal conscience,” Durbin said, "but as long as they are prepared to back the law, Roe vs. Wade, prepared to back women's rights as we've defined them under the law, then I think they can be part of the party.”

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