WASHINGTON — Senate democrats blocked the advancement of a federal sex trafficking bill on Tuesday after taking issue with the inclusion of a statute that prohibited money from a victim’s fund from being used for abortion.
The Justice for Victims of Human Trafficking Act had been presented by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and sought to increase penalties for those convicted of sexually exploiting children, engaging in human smuggling or holding women hostage as sex slaves. Fines collected from those engaged in such acts would be pooled into a fund that would be used to help victims of human trafficking.
But last week, Democrats noted that the bill included a stipulation that none of the funds collected from fines would we allowed to be used for abortion services—with the exception of cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother. Some asserted that Republicans surreptitiously inserted the language without mention.
“They added the new language quietly, hoping nobody would notice, then we’d all march down there,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) told reporters. “I put my name on this bill, by the way, because my staff trusted the Republican staff when they said there wasn’t any change in abortion language. … And [now] I got my name off this bill.”
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) vowed to filibuster the act, claiming that the abortion funding ban in the legislation would be harmful women who desired to obtain an abortion.
“If Democrats actually vote to filibuster help for oppressed victims of modern slavery … I can’t imagine the American people will forget it,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stated.
Democratic opposition to the Hyde Amendment-type ban culminated on Tuesday.
“If we’re speaking for those who have been the victims of human trafficking, we ought to listen to them,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). “This (abortion funding ban) is not something they’re asking for.”
“I support the rest of this bill,” he stated. “Take this [abortion] provision out.”
But Republicans asserted that that the abortion language would not stop women from obtaining abortions as those who are trafficked would be considered rape victims, and the bill provides an exception for rape. While lawmakers provided the exception, many pro-life leaders do not believe that there should ever be an allowance for abortion under any circumstance.
Because Democrats continued to express opposition to the inclusion of the statute in the trafficking bill, the Senate fell short of the 60 votes needed to move the measure forward. Lawmakers voted 55-43 to end discussion over the matter and shelve the legislation.
Four Democratic Senators sided with Republicans in voting to keep the bill alive: Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.).
Similar legislation had passed in the House of Representatives, but it did not include any language surrounding abortion.