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Senate Strikes Deal on Antiabortion-Rights Language in Human Trafficking Bill

Senate Strikes Deal on Antiabortion-Rights Language in Human Trafficking Bill

April 22, 2015 — Senate lawmakers on Wednesday are expected to pass a human trafficking bill (S 178) after reaching a compromise on antiabortion-rights language in the legislation, AP/ABC News reports (Werner, AP/ABC News, 4/22).

Background

The underlying legislation, proposed by Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), includes various provisions aimed at curtailing human trafficking and targeting perpetrators. However, a dispute erupted over language from antiabortion-rights legislators that had been included in the bill.

Supporters of abortion rights who objected to the language said it would expand existing restrictions on abortion funding by permanently applying the Hyde Amendment to a survivors' compensation fund, which is financed by fines and penalties paid by convicted federal offenders. Meanwhile, lawmakers who oppose abortion rights had refused to remove the language from the bill (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/15).

Agreement Details

Under negotiations led by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Cornyn, the survivors' compensation fund would include two separate pools of money. One pool, with funds collected from criminal fines, would be deposited into the Department of the Treasury's general fund to provide survivors with non-medical services.

Meanwhile, a separate pool of money would come from funds that had previously been appropriated for community health centers (Huetteman/Steinhauer, New York Times, 4/21). Such funds are already subject to the Hyde Amendment (AP/ABC News, 4/22). The Hyde Amendment includes exemptions for instances of rape and incest and endangerment to the woman's life (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/13).

Next Steps on Trafficking Bill

The Senate will vote on several amendments to the legislation on Wednesday, after which it is expected to vote to pass the measure (Carney, "Floor Action," The Hill, 4/21).

One of the amendments, proposed by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), would require treating trafficked minors as victims of a crime (New York Times, 4/21). It would urge federal and state prosecutors not to pursue charges against such minors for prostitution or other crimes. Klobuchar said she thought the amendment would pass easily (Mimms, National Journal, 4/21).

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) urged Senate conservatives not to harm chances of the bill's passage by introducing unrelated amendments (New York Times, 4/21). He said Tuesday afternoon that Senate lawmakers were "not out of the woods yet" (Fleming, "#WGDB," Roll Call, 4/21). However, the legislation is still "likely" to advance "by a wide margin" on Wednesday afternoon after the amendments are considered, according to AP/ABC News (AP/ABC News, 4/22).

Movement Sets Up Vote on Lynch Confirmation

In related news, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday said the chamber would hold a confirmation vote on U.S. attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch as soon as the chamber "finish[es] the trafficking bill" (National Journal, 4/21). According to AP/ABC News, the confirmation vote could come as soon as Thursday (AP/ABC News, 4/22).

McConnell repeatedly had said the full Senate would not hold a confirmation vote until after the passage of the human trafficking measure. Senators who support abortion rights have said that Lynch deserved a confirmation vote regardless of the time of a vote on the trafficking bill (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/15).

Lynch has been awaiting confirmation for 160 days as of Wednesday, according to the National Journal (National Journal, 4/21). According to The Hill, she is expected to be confirmed (Bolton, The Hill, 4/21).

Lawmakers Praise Deal on Human Trafficking Bill

Cornyn said he was "thrilled we were finally able to come together ... over this vital legislation," adding that he "look[s] forward to swift passage in the Senate" (New York Times, 4/21).

Murray said, "I'm pleased that we were able to reach a deal that gets this done in a way that does not expand restrictions on women's health to non-taxpayer dollars or to new programs, and provides survivors with real dedicated funds for the support and services they need" (Kelly, USA Today, 4/21).

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the Obama administration would withhold judgment on the legislation until it could review the final language. However, he said it was "an encouraging sign" that the bill has received support from "champions for women's health care like ... Murray," indicating "that [the measure] certainly seems like the kind of thing the president would be able to support" (AP/ABC News, 4/22).

Advocacy Groups Respond

NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue in a statement said NARAL "greatly appreciate[s] the work of Sens. Murray, Reid and others in standing up for victims of trafficking." However, she noted that while the compromise prevents "an expansion of the Hyde [A]mendment," it is "a perfect example of why the … Hyde [A]mendment is bad policy and harmful to women," adding that because of the amendment, "the bill still denies the most vulnerable women necessary access to vital health services" (NARAL Pro-Choice America statement, 4/21).

National Partnership for Women & Families President Debra Ness praised Reid and Murray "and every senator who stood strong for women's health." However, she added that "[e]ven though the compromise ... stopped anti-choice efforts to expand the Hyde Amendment's reach, trafficking survivors will still face unconscionable restrictions to accessing the reproductive health services they need." She "pledge[d] to continue this fight" to repeal the "callous, punishing and discriminatory" Hyde Amendment (NPWF statement, 4/21).