WASHINGTON, D.C., March 12, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) — An anti-trafficking bill with bipartisan support has come to a screeching halt over Democratic opposition to a pro-life measure they say was snuck into the legislation, but which Republicans say only maintains the status quo.
S. 178, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015, relies on fines against traffickers to create the Domestic Trafficking Victims' Fund. The fines would be used to help trafficked women.
And according to Democratic senators, that help should include full access to abortion. They are complaining that including the Hyde Amendment in the five-year bill is unnecessary and inappropriate.
Democrats also say they didn't know about the Hyde Amendment language — which is used to prevent annual appropriations funds from being used to fund elective abortions — until after it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee with full bipartisan support.
“These provisions, my caucus did not know about,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, said on Tuesday. “The bill will not come off this floor as long as that language is in it.”
“There was a representation that the controversial provision was not included in this bill. It turns out that it was,” said Judiciary Committee Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois. “I don't know how that happened or who was the author of it.”
The bill passed the committee by voice vote — meaning that it was so uncontroversial that it didn't even require a recorded vote. Its popularity from the 113th Congress was expected to continue this year, and did until Democrats realized abortion funding was restricted.
“A list was sent to certain members saying, 'Here are the changes from last year.' This provision was not listed among them,” said Judiciary Committee Senator Chuck Schumer of New York.
And the committee's top Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, said Republicans were using “debates about some of the most vulnerable among us to advance their own political agenda.”
However, the bill's lead sponsor, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, has said Democrats should have known the pro-life measure was included in the bill. He pointed to how the bill has Democratic cosponsors, was introduced nearly two months ago, and was marked up in committee in late February.
“That leads me to believe that some of the suggestions being made now, that there were provisions in the legislation the people didn't know about, are simply untrue,” Cornyn said in a press conference.
“That presupposes that none of their staff briefed their senators on what was in the legislation, that nobody read a 68-page bill and that senators would vote for a bill — much less co-sponsor it — without reading it and knowing what’s in it. None of that strikes me as plausible.”
“All this does is maintain the status quo by making sure this Crime Victims Compensation Fund, that funds available from that fund, are constrained by the constraint that exists under all other federal law,” he added.
Democrats disagree, pointing to how the Hyde Amendment is only attached to the one-year budget appropriations funds considered by Congress each year, while the trafficking bill would be law for five years. Furthermore, those dollars exclusively come from taxpayer-collected funds, while the Domestic Trafficking Victims' Fund would be paid for by fines and fees.
According to Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, inclusion of the Hyde Amendment's language would change the anti-trafficking bill from something “that was supposed to help women [to a bill] instead being used to hurt women.”
“The Senate should protect victims of human trafficking, but should not do so at the expense of women's access to safe and legal abortion,” said Richards. “The majority of human trafficking victims are women and girls, and they need access to the full range of reproductive health care services without barriers.”
American Thinker Deputy Editor Drew Belsky disagreed, however.
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“It's no surprise that Planned Parenthood demands abortions for sex-trafficking victims,” Belsky told LifeSiteNews. “For Planned Parenthood, abortion is the cure for everything, and a great moneymaker besides. We know from Live Action's investigations that Planned Parenthood has no qualms about profiting off abortions for trafficking victims and then sending them back to their abusers.”
“Counselors in Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia, a national hub for sex-trafficking, told Live Action's investigators that '[w]e see people from all walks of life here – for a while, we were treating all the girls at Paper Moon [a local strip club] and various other places around town.' Facilities in New Jersey and New York echoed this mentality,” said Belsky.
Alveda King, director of African-American Outreach for Priests for Life, was likewise critical of Richards' comments.
“Abortion is not health care,” said King in a statement to LifeSiteNews. “Abortion kills babies and hurts women’s spirits, souls and bodies. Victims of human trafficking need to be rescued from their desperate situations and helped as they regain their dignity and their lives. What they don’t need is to be bullied into abortion if they have become pregnant.”
“Abortion doesn’t address the problem of human trafficking. It is just another way to victimize these women and to increase their trauma,” said King.
In a floor speech on Wednesday, Cornyn criticized Democratic leadership for holding up the bill. The Texas senator said that Republicans had attempted to allow an amendment by Democrats to strip the pro-life language, but that Reid has rejected the offer.
In addition to aiming words at Reid, Cornyn pointedly criticized Democrats who previously supported the legislation for changing their views. He said that unless Democrats end their opposition to S. 178, the bill would be unable to pass the Senate.