Senate Human Trafficking Bill Passes After Being Stalled by Abortion Politics

A Senate bill set to provide safe harbor to underage victims of human trafficking has passed despite debate over an abortion provision, according to reports.  The bill was sponsored by Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas. The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act will start a fund for victims paid for by fines from convicted johns and traffickers.

The bill originally said that money in the fund could not be used to pay for abortions. Democrats said they were not informed about these provisions, whereas Republicans disagreed and said the bill was clear from the beginning. However, an amendment to the bill has changed the funding scheme.

Now, the fund is separated in two parts: one for health services, and the other for non-health services. Money for health services will come from grants to community health centers, and cannot be used for abortions. Funding for other social services will come from fines levied on johns and traffickers.

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar proposed the splitting of the funds into two pools. “This compromise was hammered out after weeks of negotiations and represents a bipartisan agreement, which is based on my proposal to create two separate funds,” she said in a press release. “There are a lot of people on both sides of the aisle who care deeply about supporting victims of trafficking, and I am pleased that we have finally been able to come together to find a resolution that will allow us to move this important legislation forward.”

Klobuchar’s own human trafficking bill, which will provide safe harbor to victims of trafficking, is also moving forward in the legislature.

“I think the end result, the most important message of the day, is that we were able to work this compromise out that keeps the status quo and allows us to move forward with some really important bills,” said Klobuchar to The Star Tribune. “How can we start talking about girls in Nigeria if we can’t even fix our own problems?”

Cornyn said in a press release that he was “Pleased that once again we have come together in a bipartisan effort towards solving a major problem facing our country.”

The funding restrictions for abortion in the bill come from the Hyde Amendment, which bars any taxpayer money from being used to pay for abortions. The only exceptions are if the pregnancy is the result of rape, incest, or if the mother’s life is at risk.

According to US News, Democrats argued that applying the Hyde Amendment to this bill expanded its coverage. The Hyde Amendment applies to federal taxpayer revenue, but the victims fund created in the bill is filled by revenue from fines rather than tax revenue.

Republican leaders said the bill was clear about the abortion limit from the beginning, and that Democrats were holding the bill hostage.  Cornyn said in a March 19 Senate debate that Democrats “voted for similar restrictions in the Affordable Care Act and Defense Authorization bill, so that argument doesn’t hold water.” The Hyde Amendment was passed in 1976, and has been applied to other laws.

Erik Paulsen, a Republican from Minnesota, wrote the House of Representatives version of the same bill. He told the Star Tribune that his version did not contain the abortion language, and it was an unnecessary addition. “There is no reason it should be included in these bills,” he said. “This issue is far too important to tie it up with an unrelated fight with politics as usual.”

 

Photo via aoc.gov

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