Senate Judiciary Committee member, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Jan. 28, 2015.
Photo by Susan Walsh/AP

Abortion provision imperils human-trafficking bill

In a deeply divided Congress, with the major parties further apart than any time in generations, there aren’t many bipartisan bills on important issues. A pending bill on human trafficking, however, looked like the kind of measure that could work its way through Capitol Hill with ease.
At least, it used to.
The basic idea of the legislation, called the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, would fine traffickers to create a fund to support victims. After the bill sailed through committee, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), the bill’s chief sponsor, told reporters, “Too often we see partisan politics divide Congress, but today as we move forward with a bill to eliminate human trafficking, we see that doesn’t always have to be the case. I’m pleased Republicans, Democrats, and over 200 outside organizations have come together in support of this worthy cause.”
The process was smooth sailing, right up until yesterday. The Huffington Post reported that Senate Democrats “discovered that Republicans had slipped anti-abortion language into the bill.”
…Democrats learned this week that the legislation contains Hyde Amendment language, which restricts federal funding for abortion and other health care services. They’re vowing to hold up the entire bill until the controversial provision is removed.
“These provisions, my caucus did not know about,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters Tuesday. “The bill will not come off this floor as long as that [abortion] language is in it.”
Even Democrats on the Judiciary Committee said they had no idea the abortion provision was in the bill. Some suggested they had been misled.
The argument that Republicans intentionally tried to deceive Democrats is actually quite sound. A similar proposal, without an abortion provision, was introduced in the last Congress, and as this year’s process got underway, GOP senators provided Dems with a list of minor alterations to the bill’s language. The anti-abortion measure wasn’t on the list, and Democrats moved forward, taking Republicans at their word.
Cornyn denies his office did anything untoward and insisted yesterday it was up to Democrats to read the entire text of the bill.
All of a sudden, one of the year’s easiest bills is likely to be derailed by the GOP’s insistence on an unnecessary culture-war provision.
“We’re on the bill. And these provisions, my caucus did not know about them,” Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said. “You can blame it on staff, blame it on whoever you want to blame it on, but we didn’t know it was in the bill. The bill will not come off this floor as long as that language is in the bill.”
Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, added in a statement, “The Senate should protect victims of human trafficking but should not do so at the expense of women’s access to safe and legal abortion. The majority of human trafficking victims are women and girls, and they need access to the full range of reproductive health care services without barriers.”
Disclosure: My wife works for Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in this report and she is not working on this legislation in any way.