Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair Tom Perez called on Democrats to support reproductive freedoms late last week, after pro-choice advocates criticized the party for its embrace of Omaha mayoral candidate Heath Mello, a Democrat who helped pass abortion restrictions while in the Nebraska legislature.
“Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health,” Perez said Friday in a statement, according to the Huffington Post. “That is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state.”
“At a time when women’s rights are under assault from the White House, the Republican Congress, and in states across the country,” Perez said, “we must speak up for this principle as loudly as ever and with one voice.”
Perez on Friday discussed his support for abortion rights in a series of tweets. “When I ran for DNC Chair, I made a promise to protect women’s rights to safe, legal, and accessible abortion,” he wrote. “Whatever one’s personal beliefs about choice, no government should legislate them onto others.”
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He added that he would sit down “with progressive women leaders next week to discuss how we can best live our pro-choice values.”
Criticism of Perez and the party came amid his Democratic “unity tour” with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who voiced support for Mello in a statement published by the Wall Street Journal. Mello was scheduled to speak as part of the tour the following day.
Mello, who received endorsements from Nebraska Right to Life in past elections, co-sponsored anti-choice restrictions such as an ultrasound measure while serving in the state legislature. The Democratic candidate pledged Thursday that he will not legislate based on his opposition to abortion rights if he wins the mayoral race.
Perez initially defended the event, according to the Huffington Post, saying in a statement that it was the party’s job “to help Democrats who have garnered support from voters in their community cross the finish line and win.”
But in a Friday interview with the New York Times after intense criticism from reproductive rights advocates, Perez said that while he respects Democrats who personally oppose abortion rights, “If they try to legislate or govern that way, we will take them on.”
Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, lauded Perez and the party for his statement in support of reproductive rights. “Kudos to Chair Tom Perez and the DNC for recognizing that we are a stronger party when we stand for our core values,” Hogue said. “Women across the country who are, and have always been, the heart and soul of the party, are breathing a sigh of relief to know that the DNC has our backs, and we look forward to a day when we don’t have to fight this fight again.”
Hogue had blasted the party after news broke of the event with Mello, noting in a statement that the DNC’s support of the anti-choice candidate was “not only disappointing, it is politically stupid.”
Minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Sunday on Meet the Press that Democrats were united by “our commitment to America’s working families,” and that “of course” it was possible for Democratic lawmakers to hold anti-choice views.
Sanders seemed unapologetic about his support for Mello in an interview Sunday on Face the Nation. Sanders pointed to his “pro-choice voting record” and said, “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?”
“I don’t think so,” said Sanders, adding that the candidate running against Mello is also anti-choice.