- - Wednesday, May 3, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If you’re a Democrat who opposes abortion, even if ever so timidly, you have to ride at the back of the party bus if you get to ride at all. This is the lesson that Heath Mello, the Democratic candidate for mayor of Omaha, a mild blue city in a deep-red state, is learning to his considerable chagrin.

Mr. Mello, 37, is locked in a tight race with a Republican and would seem to be the man to please the abortion lobby. He has ticked all the boxes. As a member of the Nebraska legislature, he supported the fight against sex trafficking, and campaigned for reproductive health-care for rape survivors, expanded funding for birth-control services, Medicaid for low-income working adults, universal prenatal care for all women, and fought against repeal of Obamacare and against defunding Planned Parenthood.

As a church-going Roman Catholic, he says he’s pro-life but would never let his faith get in the way of the abortionists or do “anything to restrict access to reproductive health care.” That’s not enough for the Democrats of 2017. Planned Parenthood says it has never endorsed Mr. Mello and never would, and abortion-rights organizations are competing with each other to be the loudest in harshly denouncing the idea that anyone could be a pro-life Democrat. Eight yards and 35 inches is not enough, a “pro-choice Democrat” must go the whole nine yards.

The Democratic National Committee, desperate for a winner somewhere, has endorsed Mr. Mello’s race for mayor, which is making life difficult for Tom Perez, the new chairman of the committee. “Every Democrat,” he says, “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. 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.”

Even this doesn’t satisfy the party fringe. “Pro-Choice America,” an arm of the National Abortion Rights League, or NARAL, denounced the Democratic National Committee’s search for a Democratic candidate who can beat a Republican anywhere in the wake of disappointments in Kansas and Georgia. NARAL harshly scolded the party’s “embrace of an “anti-choice candidate.”

NARAL was upset after The Wall Street Journal reported that Mr. Mello once supported legislation “requiring women to look at an ultrasound image of their [unborn child] before receiving an abortion.” The chairman of the Nebraska Democratic Party, eager to elect a Democratic mayor of Omaha, says Mr. Mello’s legislative record has been “mischaracterized.”

Heath is a strong, progressive Democrat,” Jane Kleeb, the chairman, says. “He is pro-life and you can be both things. What Heath actually did was stop a bill to make ultrasounds mandatory by getting Republicans to make them voluntary.” Not good enough, NARAL replied. “It’s not enough to issue a statement for political expedience when your record is full of anti-choice votes,” said the president of NARAL in reply.

A new Pew poll finds that 28 percent of all Democrats consider themselves pro-life and want to make abortion illegal in most cases. The percentages are even higher among blacks and Hispanics. The base of the party is militantly pro-choice, but turmoil and anger in a mayor’s race in the middle of the country reflects the dilemma of a largely bicoastal party at its lowest ebb in 70 years. It might win, but in spite of itself.

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