Blocking an attempt by GOP lawmakers to scuttle through a provision that would deny survivors of human trafficking access to safe and legal abortions, Senate Democrats on Tuesday staged a filibuster against the measure.
The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (S 178), introduced by Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), would have established a fund to help survivors by using fines levied against traffickers. However, the bill included a provision, known as the Hyde Amendment, that restricted that fund from being used for abortion care.
"We're not talking about taxpayer money," dissenting Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said Tuesday. "We're talking about money collected from the very offenders who have already controlled too much of the lives of these women and girls. These survivors deserve more options, not fewer."
The final Senate roll call for the bill was 55 to 43, just short of the 60 votes needed to clear a procedural hurdle. Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.) voted with Republicans to try to advance it.
Ahead of the vote, Republican lawmakers attempted to shame their Democratic counterparts into accepting the provision.
"If Democrats actually vote to filibuster help for oppressed victims of modern slavery...I can't imagine the American people will forget it," threatened Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Following the vote, however, reproductive rights groups immediately commended the Democratic effort in the face of such attacks.
In a statement, Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said: "Survivors of human trafficking have dealt with the unfathomable, yet politicians wanted to add insult to injury by passing a bill that would limit their access to safe and legal abortion care."
"Playing politics with women’s access to reproductive health care is simply reprehensible," Northup added.
As the Huffington Post notes, the Hyde Amendment is routinely slipped in to annual appropriations bills. The human trafficking bill, however, "is an authorization bill for five years, meaning that the abortion restrictions would be in place for a much longer period, and without congressional review. The bill also expands Hyde Amendment restrictions beyond taxpayer dollars to include revenue from traffickers' fees."
Rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America denounced the underhanded effort. "It is despicable that anti-choice politicians chose to use a bill designed to protect victims from violence as a vehicle to expand the discriminatory Hyde amendment in unprecedented ways," the group said. "Access to comprehensive health care is a basic human right. Every time these extremist politicians try to extend the Hyde amendment, women are denied the ability to make personal and private medical decisions."
Planned Parenthood issued a statement detailing the myriad ways the new GOP-led Senate has incorporated anti-abortion language into otherwise unrelated bills, including the new House education bill, ESEA. "It’s becoming increasingly clear that anti-women’s health politicians in Washington are determined to advance their anti-abortion agenda at any cost," said Planned Parenthood.
Advocates are urging Congress to revisit the bill and pass legislation that supports and protects the rights of human trafficking survivors without limiting their reproductive health choices.