Why Progressives Are Upset With Bernie Sanders

April 21st 2017

Willie Burnley Jr.

On Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) appeared alongside Omaha mayoral candidate Heath Mello as a part of the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) "unity tour", to the chagrin of abortion rights groups who claimed that Mello shouldn’t be supported by the Democratic establishment.

Mello, who is currently a Nebraska state senator, is campaigning against the Republican incumbent, Jean Stothert and has received backlash from pro-choice organizations for his 2009 co-sponsorship of a bill that would have mandated doctors to tell women seeking abortions that they had the right to request an ultrasound before they went through with the procedure. Mello said at the time that he hoped it would lead to fewer abortions. 

Sanders has defended his choice to support the candidate, despite having different views on the issue. As he told NPR, "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."

Leading pro-choice organizations have been less than supportive of this approach, however.



In a statement condemning the move by DNC Chair Tom Perez - who did not attend the rally - and Sanders to support anti-choice candidates, NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue called the strategy “politically stupid” and said that abortion access was “a proxy for women to have control over our lives, our family’s lives, our economic well-being, our dignity, and human rights.”

She also said:

“Engaging and turning out women voters will be key in 2018. Look no further than the special election in Georgia this week. Democrats erased a 20-plus point Republican advantage in a deep red state with a reproductive freedom candidate who said his campaign was fueled by women. This makes the DNC’s actions even more puzzling and troubling.”

Though he stopped short of specifically defending Mello, Perez issued a statement which offered an explanation of the DNC's intent. 

"Our job at the DNC is to help Democrats who have garnered support from voters in their community cross the finish line and win — from school board to Senate,” DNC Chair Tom Perez said the statement, in which he reiterated the Democratic Party’s pro-choice character and argued that Republicans were the “biggest threat to women’s reproductive rights.”

Perez’s comments point to the party's need to rebuild nationally after years of Republican domination of state and local elections under President Obama, which saw Democrats losing over 1,030 seats in local, gubernatorial, and congressional elections to Republicans since 2009.

Still, the pushback that Sanders and Perez have received seems to indicate that the DNC cannot expect that this approach will appease everyone.

Planned Parenthood, which did not specifically rebuke the DNC’s support for Mello, warned that there would be consequences for those who support anti-choice legislation and candidates.

“We will hold any political party, any candidate for public office, and any elected official accountable for not standing up for reproductive rights," Erica Sackin, a spokeswoman for the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement.