Senate 'Resolves' Fight over Abortion Provision in Sex Trafficking Bill


After a month of arguing, the Senate has reached a weird little compromise that will allow a bill to pass that aids victims of sex trafficking. It got held up because Senate Republicans were concerned some of those sex trafficking victims might need abortion care.

That’s why Senate Republicans snuck anti-abortion language into the bill in March. The bill collects money from people convicted of trafficking and use that money to help victims; the Republican’ new language stipulated that the money would be restricted by the Hyde Amendment, the law which bans federal funding for abortion.

The “compromise,” as the New York Times reports, splits that funding money in two: half of it goes to a general fund and won’t be subject to abortion restrictions. But it also can’t be used for healthcare services of any kind for trafficking victims, only for things like legal aid, shelter, and counseling. The other half of the money can be used for healthcare and medical services, but it’s subject to the Hyde Amendment.

In other words, then, none of the money can legally be used for abortion care. That really doesn’t look like a compromise.

During the stalemate, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also decided he would refuse to cooperate with the confirmation hearing of Loretta Lynch, Obama’s new pick for attorney general. She’s been waiting to be confirmed for nearly five months. With the sex trafficking argument resolved, that hearing will now move forward, along with a few other minor piece of business, like the role Congress play in nuclear negotiation between Iran and the U.S. and its allies.

John Cornyn, the Texas Republican who sponsored the trafficking bill and was accused of sneaking in the anti-abortion language, told the Times he’s “thrilled” it can move forward: “I look forward to swift passage in the Senate so we can ensure victims of human trafficking receive the resources they need to restore their lives.”

Except abortion. Not that resource.

Update, 4:30: Both Planned Parenthood and NARAL have issued unhappy statements. From Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards:

As part of their agenda to outlaw legal abortion, Senator Cornyn and anti-women’s health politicians hijacked an otherwise bipartisan effort to support survivors of human trafficking and delayed this legislation for over one month. Thankfully, Senators Reid and Murray and other women’s health champions held the line andtoday’s agreement prevents Hyde from being extended even further into other funding streams, and provides survivors of human trafficking with immediate access to needed health care services.
“It’s ridiculous that some politicians are so fixated on a narrow political agenda that they’d go so far as to block a highly qualified nominee for attorney general and deny care to survivors of human trafficking. What’s clear is that this is part of an organized, orchestrated effort to block access to abortion for the most vulnerable women in this country and it’s playing out in Congress and in state legislatures across the country.

And from NARAL president Ilyse Hogue:

This bill, and the deal reached, are a perfect example of why the so-called Hyde amendment is bad policy and harmful to women. Because of the Hyde amendment, this bill still denies the most vulnerable women necessary access to vital health services.
When we are talking about a community in which up to eighty percent of victims end up pregnant, often multiple times, it is unconscionable that Republicans are willing to cast aside the rights and freedoms of women and families, particularly the survivors of human and sex trafficking, by denying them the full range of health care they deserve. Sadly this bill is now another example in the long series of premeditated, coordinated and sustained attacks on women’s health care, advancing the far-right wing goal of banning abortion altogether.
A compromise was reportedly reached to deny expansion of the unjust Hyde amendment to a private fund for the first time, yet the fact that anti-choice Republicans even chose to pick this fight is abhorrent. Their goal was to expand the Hyde amendment, but because of a few pro-choice legislators and hundreds of thousands of activists that fought against their legislative aggression, anti-choice Republicans will be denied an expansion of the Hyde amendment.
While this is a stunning loss that should serve as a strong lesson to the anti-choice zealots who repeatedly attach unjust abortion regulations to any legislation concerning women’s health, today’s tragic loss is for human and sex trafficking victims—women and girls—will regrettably be denied full reproductive health care access as a result of today’s compromise.
We greatly appreciate the work of Sens. Murray, Reid and others in standing up for victims of trafficking, and we look forward to the day that these bills will allow all women control over their own bodies and their own destiny.

John Cornyn, left, and Mitch McConnell during a March press conference on the sex trafficking bill. Photo via AP

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