Senate Republicans slipped anti-choice language into a bipartisan, broadly supported human trafficking bill, outraging Democrats who are blocking further amendments to the bill until that language is taken out.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), lead sponsor of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, said the anti-choice provision in that bill was nothing more than the status quo. It’s the language of the Hyde Amendment, which for 39 years has discriminated against low-income and vulnerable women by restricting federal funding for abortion care.
But the use of that language in this bill would actually expand the Hyde Amendment, making its restrictions permanent and applied to private funds, not just taxpayer dollars. And the restrictions would specifically apply to the often underage, female victims of underground sex slavery in the United States.
“Human trafficking survivors, overwhelmingly young women, deserve to have all reproductive health options available to them,” said Kate Stewart, vice president of public affairs at Advocates For Youth. “No woman should have her decision about abortion made for her because she can’t afford medical care.”
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Congress normally adds the restrictive Hyde Amendment every year to appropriations bills, and legislators could theoretically decline to do so any time. This Republican provision, however, would set the policy in stone for at least five years. And no taxpayer money contributes to the bill’s fund for victims’ services and anti-trafficking law enforcement, a sum of up to $30 million that comes from extra fines against convicted traffickers.
“I am appalled that on a bill intended to help women, Republicans actually have chosen to double down on their political fight against women’s health,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said on the Senate floor. “They just can’t seem to help themselves.”
Democrats also complained that the move was a bait and switch by Republicans. The anti-choice language wasn’t in the same bill last year, nor was it included in a list of changes to the bill distributed to staff.
Cornyn countered that Democrats should have seen the language if they had read the bill, and that no objections were raised about it when the bill easily passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Cornyn’s bill is one of two human trafficking bills the Senate is considering. The other, sponsored by Rep. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), would help ensure that victims of human trafficking aren’t subject to criminal prosecution.
The abortion language fight wasn’t the only Republican-led effort to use this human trafficking debate to restrict civil rights.
Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), citing stories about abuse in “birth tourism” industries, tried to introduce an amendment on Tuesday that would have violated the 14th Amendment by prohibiting children of parents who aren’t already citizens or lawful permanent residents to automatically become U.S. citizens.
And Republican objections to anti-discrimination protections for LGBT youth stalled another trafficking bill sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), which would seek to prevent trafficking by providing more services to homeless youth who are most vulnerable to the practice.