Senate Dems Filibuster Trafficking Bill Over Hyde

Ten Senate Democrats voted March 17 to filibuster the Justice for Victims of Sex Trafficking Act over inclusion of Hyde Amendment provisions, which forbids federal funding for most abortions or abortion-related care.

"I know there are some Democrats who care deeply about the victims of human trafficking. Unfortunately, not everybody does, otherwise we wouldn't be having this obstruction," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the bill's author. "I hope they will examine their conscience."

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The long-standing Hyde Amendment has exceptions for abortions in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the woman would be endangered. The language in the trafficking measure, known as S. 178, accounts for the fact because the federal grants it creates would be funded by fees rather than taxes.

Hyde has routinely been applied to annual appropriations bill since 1976. Because the anti-trafficking bill would set up these grant programs for trafficking victims over the course of five years, Hyde would apply for a much longer period of time than usual.

"The amendment was not on the last Congress' version of the bill, but a lot of the co-sponsors just assumed it was the same language without reading it," explained a legislative aide of one of the bill's Republican co-sponsors, "so it was voted unanimously out of committee."

"Then last week, the pro-abortion groups found out about the clarification [of the amendment] and started lobbying extremely hard against it," the aide said.

S. 178 would amend 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 earlier bipartisan support seemed to assure the bill's passage. A similar bill passed the House with bipartisan support.

In the days leading up to the filibuster vote, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood and other abortion groups issued statements opposing the measure.

Darla Bardine, executive director of the National Network for Youth, wrote a letter March 17 to Cornyn asking him to remove the "partisan and divisive" language from the bill.

On the Senate floor, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, said anti-abortion language in the bill was "playing politics with the lives of victims," and he called access to public funds for elective abortions a necessary part of recovery for trafficking victims.

"If this diverse coalition of victims and advocates, who hail from across the political spectrum, can come together to stand with trafficking survivors, why can't our senior Senators, whose job it is to protect and safeguard the most vulnerable members of our country?" asked Kevin Ryan, president of Covenant House International, in a March 17 statement.

Covenant House provides shelter, food, immediate crisis care, and other services to homeless and runaway youth in the Americas. The organization said about a quarter of youth the agency helped New Orleans and New York City said they had been victims of sexual exploitation, including being trafficked.

According to a 2010 Quinnipiac Poll, 67 percent of those surveyed opposed using public funds to pay for elective abortions, while only 27 percent were in favor of doing so. The margin of error for the poll was plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.

Results of a more recent poll show that nearly seven in 10 Americans -- including millennials (ages 18-32) and women -- are opposed to taxpayer funding of abortion, showing a continuation of public opinion on the subject. The findings were detailed in this year's Knights of Columbus-Marist poll released in advance of the anniversary of Roe v Wade Jan. 22.

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