Senate Democrats have threatened to pull their support from a bipartisan anti-trafficking bill this week. The reason? They just found out that anti-abortion provisions were slipped into the bill language without their knowledge.
The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 would create a fund to raise money for trafficking victims. The money would be raised from the fees charged to traffickers. The bill, written by Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), has a great deal of bipartisan support and was expected to pass fairly easily. Progress was stalled when Democrats realized that the bill included language that would prohibit victims using the fund to spend the money on abortions. The anti-abortion provisions were modeled after the infamous Hyde Amendment.
Funding for abortions for trafficking victims is crucial. Women who are already being victimized in the process of trafficking do not need to be forced to carry a pregnancy to term. In an article on the health consequences of sex trafficking, former Senior Advisor on Trafficking, Laura Lederer writes that nearly 3 out of 4 surveyed women had at least one pregnancy while trafficked. Approximately 20% of those surveyed reported five pregnancies. On average, the women polled in the study were “forced to have sex with an average of 13 ‘buyers’ a day.” In total, 67 sex trafficking victims were polled for Lederer’s study; more than half of those polled reported having abortions. You can read more about why abortion funding matters for sex trafficking victims in this article.
There’s hope. The abortion language could be removed via Senate vote. Minority Leader Harry Reid has vowed that he wouldn’t allow the bill to “come off the floor” with the language intact. Reid is hopeful that the previously bipartisan bill won't turn into a political fight.
The ACLU was involved in a similar fight a few years ago. In early 2009, the ACLU and the ACLU of Massachusetts challenged the decision to distribute funds from the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). This challenge arose from the fact that the USCCB would not allow the fund to pay for contraceptives and abortion referrals and services. In March of 2012, a federal judge ruled that the Department of Health and Human Services (the organization that distributes the funds) cannot impose religiously based restrictions on reproductive health services for victims of human trafficking. You can read more about that victory here.