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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has dreawn criticism for supporting Heath Mello, who's running for Omaha mayor and has declared his personal opposition to abortion. (Photo: Lorrie Shaull/flickr/cc)

Sanders' Stumping for Anti-Choice Mayoral Candidate Draws Ire

Reproductive rights group says move is 'not only disappointing' but 'politically stupid'

Andrea Germanos

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who's now on a multi-state tour to galvanize grassroots resistance to the Trump agenda, can boast of high popularity, but he's taking flak for backing an anti-choice mayoral candidate.

Speaking Thursday at a sold-out event at the University of Nebraska Omaha's Baxter Arena, Sanders rallied support for Heath Mello, the Democrat who's hoping to unseat Omaha's Republican Mayor Jean Stothert next month.

"Maybe, just maybe it's time to change one-party rule in Nebraska," Sanders said during the Democratic National Committee's (DNC) "Come Together and Fight Back" tour stop, the Associated Press reports. "And we can start right here by electing Heath Mello as the next mayor," Sanders said.

As reproductive news website Rewire notes:

Mello represented Nebraska's District 5 in the state legislature from 2009 to 2016, when he reached his term limit. He co-sponsored an anti-choice measure later signed into law forcing doctors to offer patients seeking an abortion an ultrasound prior to the procedure. [...]

Mello said in an Associated Press interview that the legislation was a "positive first step to reducing the number of abortions in Nebraska." [...]

Mello is a sponsor of the final version of a 20-week abortion ban approved by the governor in 2010, and cast anti-choice votes in favor of requiring physicians to be physically present for an abortion in order to impede access to telemedicine abortion care, and a law banning insurance plans in the state from covering abortions. He was endorsed in 2010 by anti-choice group Nebraska Right to Life.

Sanders defended his support for Mello, telling NPR Thursday after a rally in Grand Prairie, Texas: "Absolutely, and I want him to win." He added: "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," he said. "And we have got to appreciate where people come from, and do our best to fight for the pro-choice agenda. But I think you just can't exclude people who disagree with us on one issue."

Mello's legislative record curtailing reproductive rights and Sanders' support for him drew the ire of Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, who outlined her condemnation in a series of tweets and a statement.

"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, who was a delegate for Hillary Clinton during her presidential run, stated.

"The Democratic Party, and its leaders, would be ill-advised to ignore data that blocking access to legal abortion does not win you a single vote, and robs women of dignity and autonomy. Abortion access is not a 'single issue' or a 'social issue.' It is a proxy for women to have control over our lives, our families' lives, our economic well-being, our dignity, and human rights," Hogue continued.

She added on Twitter: "It's that there IS NO economic populism 4 women WITHOUT reproductive freedom and Justice. Is that so hard?"

"Do better, Dems," she added in a separate tweet. "These are real women w/real families that u hurt when u see our very beings as negotiable properties to win elections."

Mello, for his part, said to Huffington Post Thursday: "While my faith guides my personal views, as Mayor I would never do anything to restrict access to reproductive healthcare."

Apart from stumping for Mello, Aaron Blake, senior political reporter for Washington Post's "The Fix" blog, wrote that another sign of Sanders' "strange behavior" is keeping "at arms-length" Democrat Jon Ossoff, who's running in the special election for the U.S. House seat vacated by newly-installed Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price. Ossoff has declared support for reproductive rights.

"He's not a progressive," Sanders said of Ossof to the Post. And in an interview with the Wall Street Journal Wednesday, Sanders said he didn't know if Ossof is a progressive.  In a statement issued Friday, however, Sanders did back Ossoff.  "It is imperative that Jon Ossoff be elected congressman from Georgia's 6th District and that Democrats take back the U.S. House. I applaud the energy and grassroots activism in Jon's campaign. His victory would be an important step forward in fighting back against [President Donald] Trump's reactionary agenda," Sanders stated, according to HuffPo.

But according to at least one observer, those criticizing Sanders' backing of Mello would be wise to remember that the party has backed other anti-abortion Democrats.

Politico noted: "Mello joins Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly and Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey as self-described anti-abortion Democrats who are getting support from the party this year."

On previous healthcare legislation, many made clear they were willing to "sell women down the river," while Senate Minoroity Leader Harry Reid has said: "I clearly oppose abortion."

Clinton also chose as her running mate Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, who declared his "faith-based opposition" to abortion.


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