On this complex issue, real liberals give wide latitude to other opinions.
Donald Trump has mastered the authoritarian act, and that’s how he attracted his brigade of humble followers. Some on the left seem to envy this ability to force obedience through threats and attacks. But that approach doesn’t work on issue-oriented voters, doubly so on matters requiring nuance. Abortion is one such issue.
Thus, one cannot fathom the ongoing crusade by abortion-rights activists to crush Heath Mello, a moderate Democrat running for mayor of Omaha. NARAL Pro-Choice America, it seems, would rather punish a Democrat straying from its dictates than defeat a more resolutely anti-choice Republican.
Democrats have this self-defeating habit of sabotaging otherwise progressive candidates who dissent from some base group’s orthodoxy. Bernie Sanders and friends relentlessly beat up Hillary Clinton over minor differences in economic policy. It may be ironic that Sanders is now supporting Mello despite the Nebraskan’s mixed feelings on abortion, but he is right this time.
What makes NARAL’s assault on Mello truly bizarre is that it is beyond unfair. Mello is not anti-choice. (Lazy headline writers, take note.)
Mello says he doesn’t approve of abortion on religious grounds but as mayor “would never do anything to restrict access to reproductive health care.” This position is identical to that of the late New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, an exemplary progressive who never curbed abortion rights while in office.
One rap against Mello is that as a state senator, he sponsored a bill setting a 20-week limit for women seeking an abortion. That is not a ban on abortion. In this country, nearly 99 percent of abortions are done before 21 weeks.
Here’s another reality check: In Germany, Belgium, Denmark and France, abortion without restrictions is limited to the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy. In Sweden, it’s 18 weeks. No one accuses these countries of being anti-choice. Their governments also pay for abortions, something ours should do, as well.
Of more concern, Mello backed a bill requiring that women be told that they could see a fetal ultrasound before having an abortion. That would seem a government intrusion on a private decision, but there’s no forcing any woman to look at anything.
The liberal website Daily Kos meekly withdrew its endorsement of Mello over the ultrasound issue. So exactly whom are its writers endorsing? Put another way, do they see a difference between Mello and his far more anti-choice opponent?
National polls show widespread support for a basic right to abortion but also interest in adding restrictions. The prominent Nebraska Democrat Jane Kleeb, a strong Mello supporter, tries to explain that many Democrats she knows are troubled by abortion. In this part of the country, you elect either a Democrat like Mello or a Republican.
Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania are Democrats opposed to abortion. Do liberals want them replaced by Republicans who can’t even get straight on the matter of covering contraceptives?
Let me make my view clear: Access to an early abortion should be part of a well-developed set of reproductive-health services. And any restrictions must make room for those rare situations when something goes dreadfully wrong later in a pregnancy.
Clinton was careful never to frame abortion as a casual thing. NARAL itself took the word “abortion” out of its official name, preferring the emphasis to be on choice.
It’s therefore curious to see Democrats tormenting good candidates over small deviations in doctrine. On the complex issue of abortion, real liberals give wide latitude to other opinions. The ultimate question for single-minded activists is, do you want to run the country or just the Democratic Party?