The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bipartisan human trafficking bill on April 22, scoring a significant victory for Republicans who fought to ensure taxpayer funding wouldn’t go to pay for abortions.
“Help is finally on the way for the thousands of enslaved victims who suffer unspeakable abuse in the shadows,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act boosts law enforcement’s ability to pursue perpetrators, strengthens penalties, and establishes a domestic fund to help trafficking victims. The legislation was widely popular, but it only passed after an unexpected month-long stalemate between Republicans and Democrats.
A unanimous vote sent the bill out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 26, allowing lawmakers to boast of their bipartisan work. That quickly devolved into partisan bickering when McConnell tried to bring the legislation to the floor for a vote in March. Democrats blocked it—five times in five weeks—saying they had only just then discovered the bill contained Hyde Amendment language to prohibit federal abortion funding. They accused Republicans of trying to expand the long-standing amendment’s reach into a private fund.
McConnell in turn refused to consider President Barack Obama’s attorney general nominee, Loretta Lynch, until Democrats allowed a vote on the human trafficking bill. Democrats held their ground for weeks but eventually undercut their own position when they voted for a Medicare bill that included Hyde Amendment language—as every appropriations bill has since 1976.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, a primary sponsor of the trafficking bill, worked with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., to forge a compromise that saved face for Democrats but ultimately didn’t allow taxpayer funds to pay for abortions. The victim fund will be subject to Hyde Amendment language, and applicable fines will only be used for non-healthcare purposes.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., told me the fight was worth having because life is important and because Republicans needed to establish who is in charge: “We’re not just going to have the minority party run the Senate. … We’re in the majority. We should run it like a majority.”
Lankford said Democrats backed themselves into a corner, but it made sense for a compromise that created a win-win. “That’s the way the process is supposed to work,” he said. “There’s no reason to burn the opposition just because we can.”
The bill wouldn’t have seemed like a major defeat if Democrats hadn’t abruptly drawn a line in the sand, but the eventual outcome angered most pro-abortion groups. Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called the bill a “tragic loss” for women and girls.
Pro-life groups applauded the Republican stand and pointed to the battle as evidence Congress needs to make permanent the prohibition on taxpayer-backed abortions. “Making the Hyde Amendment permanent would end the practice of using a confusing patchwork of laws, may of which are temporary, to restrict taxpayer funding for abortion,” said Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life.
Last year, a Government Accountability Office report found more than 1,000 healthcare plans available on Obamacare exchanges included abortion coverage—in most cases paid for by taxpayer subsidies. In January the House passed the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, but the Senate has not yet voted on the bill.
Wednesday’s deal paved the way for the Senate to consider Lynch’s nomination to replace Attorney General Eric Holder. McConnell scheduled for Thursday morning a vote to begin debate.
Courtesy: WORLD News Service
Publication date: April 27, 2015