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Anti-Trafficking Legislation Stalls Amid Debate Over Abortion

Anti-Trafficking Legislation Stalls Amid Debate Over Abortion

April 11, 2012 — Supporters of an anti-trafficking law say that an ideological battle over abortion is preventing the reauthorization of the legislation, Gannett/WBIR reports.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which was first approved in 2000, provides grants to organizations to fight human trafficking, supports law enforcement and funds a hotline that received more than 11,000 calls in fiscal year 2010. The bill was reauthorized three times with bipartisan support before expiring late last year.

Reauthorization bills were introduced in the House and Senate last year, attracting about 40 co-sponsors from both parties. According to Gannett/WBIR, the legislation stalled after HHS in September denied a grant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to help trafficking survivors. HHS officials said trafficking survivors need access to a "full range of legally permissible gynecological and obstetric care," including contraceptives and abortion, for which USCCB would not provide referrals.

Amid a Republican outcry over the decision, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) rewrote the reauthorization legislation to prohibit the government from denying grants based on organization's moral or religious beliefs. Smith's version also would shift the funding process from HHS to the Department of Justice.

Cory Smith, senior policy counsel for the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking, said Smith's change, "unfortunately, has led to the bill being stalled." He added, "It doesn't have a lot of momentum compared to what it had." Cory Smith, other advocates and some congressional Democrats said that HHS is better qualified to oversee the funding. The revised bill has no Democratic co-sponsors and has not received a committee vote.

Calls To End Internet Ads

The fight over the anti-trafficking bill comes as some lawmakers are pressuring Internet companies to do a better job of blocking online ads they say are used in the prostitution of minors.

Last week, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) in a letter to Google CEO Larry Page asked him to explain how the company prevents "sexually exploitative advertisements" from appearing on its websites. A Google spokesperson said the company has spent millions of dollars fighting sex trafficking, child pornography and prostitution on its sites.

Likewise, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and 18 senators in a letter last month to Village Voice Media Holdings CEO Jim Larkin asked him to shut down the "adult services" listing on Backpage.com, a classified ad site. The senators said "it took only minutes ... for us to find posts that present clear advertisements for prostitution of young girls" (Bewley, Gannett/WBIR, 4/9).