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Two prominent women's rights groups are blasting the Democratic National Committee (DNC) for featuring leading party figures at an event with a Democratic mayoral candidate in Omaha, Neb., who opposes abortion.
Deputy Chairman Rep. Keith Ellison (Minn.) and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersObama makes 0K for speech at A&E event: report Van Jones: Obama should do ‘poverty tour’ Sanders calls for renewed focus on fighting climate change MORE (I-Vt.), both progressive favorites, will hold an event in Omaha on Thursday as part of the party's Come Together and Fight Back tour.
The Nebraska event drew concern from NARAL Pro-Choice America and UltraViolet Action because of the decision to embrace Omaha Democrat Heath Mello, who has voted for bills that restrict abortion rights.
“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. Today’s action makes this so-called 'fight back tour' look more like a throwback tour for women and our rights," NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement.
“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. 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."
Hogue went on to argue that women have been essential to the party's strong showings in recent special elections and that siding with an anti-abortion candidate like Mello would be a step back.
Karin Roland, the chief campaigns officer at anti-sexism group UltraViolet echoed that language in her own statement calling on Sanders to withdraw his support for "any politician who forces a pregnant woman to undergo an often medically unnecessary, demeaning procedure under her objections."
Mello voted for a variety for a variety of restrictions on abortion during his time in the state legislature, including a 2009 bill requiring all abortion providers who use an ultrasound as part of preparing to perform the abortion to show that ultrasound to the patient. Anti-abortion group National Right to Life called the law at the time "one of the nation's strongest ultrasound laws."
The issue has turned some progressive groups against Mello. The liberal blog Daily Kos, which has proven to be a fundraising powerhouse for Democrats, withdrew its endorsement of Mello on Thursday following revelations about his voting record on abortion.
While the Omaha mayoralty is likely low on the DNC's list of priorities for regaining power, the fight could foreshadow others between liberal groups and a Democratic establishment that could have to run more moderate candidates to appeal to a broader swath of voters in midterm elections.
While DNC Chairman Tom Perez is on the schedule for the majority of the stops on the tour, he's not appearing at the Nebraska stop or at an event the same day in Texas.
In a statement, Perez noted that party platform's full support for the right for women to direct their own reproductive health and to have access to safe abortions.
"As DNC Chair, I stand by that position unequivocally, as I have my entire life. Poll after poll shows that 7 in 10 Americans believe in keeping abortion legal and accessible. Democrats should be proud to run to protect the reproductive rights of women everywhere," he said.
"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. The biggest threat to women's reproductive rights is the relentless Republican attacks on women’s health care, including legal, accessible abortion services. And I won't let anyone get in the way of our fight to protect a woman's right to choose."
A DNC spokesman told The Hill that the decision to appear at the event came as part of the party's push to build a stronger relationship with state parties. The spokesman added Nebraska Democratic Chairwoman Jane Kleeb and Sanders's team had requested that the party make an appearance at the event.
Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Cecile Richards, whose organization is one of the most prominent defenders of abortions rights, is slated to join the tour's event in Nevada over the weekend. The organization released a statement affirming its belief that "women's health is central to the progressive movement" in response to the controversy, but did not address a change of plans from Richards.
"Planned Parenthood is a nonpartisan organization. We will hold any political party, any candidate for public office, and any elected official accountable for not standing up for reproductive rights," Planned Parenthood Federation of America spokeswoman Erica Sackin said in a statement.
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