Senate in Compromise on Human Trafficking Bill: Make Hyde Amendment permanent to avoid future legislative gridlock?

The U.S. Senate reached a compromise April 21 on a measure to help victims of sex trafficking that had been held up by lawmakers pushing to include funding for abortion. The compromise has cleared the Senate to vote for Loretta Lynch's confirmation as attorney general. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, had postponed her nomination vote until the trafficking issue was resolved.

A vote on final passage of the Justice for Victims of Sex Trafficking Act was expected late April 22, with a confirmation vote on Lynch taking place possibly as early as April 23.

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Ten Senate Democrats voted March 17 to filibuster the trafficking bill over inclusion of Hyde Amendment provisions, which forbids federal funding for most abortions or abortion-related care. Senate Democrats said the original language in the anti-trafficking measure would expand existing prohibitions on spending funds for abortion. The bill sets up federal grants to help victims over the course of five years, but those grants are funded by monies other than tax dollars.

The new compromise language establishes two sources of money for the trafficked victims' fund. Funds collected from the fines assessed on criminal perpetrators can be used for legal services but not for health or medical purposes, so Hyde language cannot be attached to that spending. Only the funds already appropriated by Congress for Community Health Centers—and subject to abortion-spending restrictions—would be available for health and medical services.

Overall, the measure amends portions of federal law to enhance protections for victims of human trafficking, streamline services and increase compensation for victims; create a block grant program; streamline investigation procedures; and fund services for victims of child pornography.

The House has passed a similar bill. A spokesman for President Barack Obama said he had not decided if he would sign the bill when it reaches his desk but that the president found endorsement of it by some Democrats to be "an encouraging sign."

In response to the compromise, Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, said the wrangling over limited abortion funding through the Hyde Amendment should come to an end.

"It is past time to make the Hyde Amendment permanent," she said in a statement, noting that in this case it is being used to "ensure that women who are victims of sexual trafficking get the help and health care services they need to recover and rehabilitate their lives and that taxpayers are not forced to pay for abortions."

"Making the Hyde Amendment permanent," she said, "would end the practice of using a confusing patchwork of laws, many of which are temporary, to restrict taxpayer funding for abortion."

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