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Vote Set on Senate Human Trafficking Bill as Dispute Over Abortion Restrictions Continues

Vote Set on Senate Human Trafficking Bill as Dispute Over Abortion Restrictions Continues

March 13, 2015 — Senate staffers over the weekend will continue discussing potential resolutions to a dispute over an antiabortion-rights provision in a human trafficking bill (S 178) that is scheduled for a vote next week, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports (Sherry, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 3/12).

Background

The underlying legislation includes various provisions aimed at curtailing human trafficking and targeting perpetrators. The legislation also would create a compensation fund for survivors of human trafficking, using money from fines assessed on those convicted of sexual abuse or crimes related to human trafficking.

The dispute erupted over language in the compensation fund provision that would bar money in the fund from being used for abortion services.

Supporters of abortion rights who object to the language said it would expand existing restrictions on abortion funding by permanently applying the Hyde Amendment to the victims' compensation fund. The amendment bars the use of federal taxpayer funds to pay for abortion, except in instances of rape and incest, and endangerment to the woman's life (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/11).

Lawmakers Still at Impasse

Lawmakers remained at an impasse after further debating the language on Thursday, the New York Times reports.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, "Where we are is we're still on the bill. And we're going to pass this bill." However, lawmakers who oppose abortion rights have so far refused to remove the language from the bill, according to the Times.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) said, "We can finish this bill in 20 minutes. The only thing that needs to be done is the language relating to abortion should come out of this bill."

Meanwhile, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Thursday proposed an amendment to remove the antiabortion-rights language from the bill (Huetteman, New York Times, 3/12).

McConnell said he would allow Democrats to vote on such an amendment, but Reid said voting on an amendment alone was "not a viable path forward." According to Politico, lawmakers who support abortion rights likely do not have enough votes to pass such an amendment.

In addition, McConnell on Thursday scheduled a vote for Tuesday to end debate and advance the underlying bill. However, the vote is likely to fail, according to Politico (Everett/Min Kim, Politico, 3/13).

Lawmakers, Stakeholders Urge Resolution

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said, "Rather than go back and forth on all this ... I think we need to put the focus back on trafficking and find some way to fix it."

The Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking said in a statement, "We urge all members of the Senate to turn away from this divisive debate and find a bipartisan approach to this new initiative to protect and serve the needs of the survivors" (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 3/12).