Senate Republicans want to deny abortion access to human trafficking survivors

Proving once again that they there is no opportunity they won’t seize to further restrict reproductive rights, Senate Republicans have quietly snuck an anti-choice provision into a bipartisan bill aimed at aiding human trafficking victims.

The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015, which would establish a fund to raise money for victims from the fees charged to traffickers, wasn’t supposed to be controversial. It has supporters on both sides of the aisle and easily passed the House earlier this year. Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) have urged members of their parties to support the legislation.

But this week, top Democrats learned that the bill includes language modeled after the Hyde Amendment, which restricts public funding for abortion procedures. The new fund created for trafficking victims would be subject to the same restrictions that currently prevent the public Medicaid program from using federal dollars to finance abortion coverage.

Predictable, GOP lawmakers are acting like this is no big deal — just the same old Hyde Amendment. In reality, though, the human trafficking fund is financed not by taxpayer money but instead by fees and fines from traffickers, so this provision would extend the Hyde Amendment’s restriction on public funding for abortion to private funds too. Plus, of course, the Hyde Amendment itself is a discriminatory and unjust policy that should be abolished. And any legislation that treats it like a settled matter — an unchangeable and reasonable status quo — is dangerous.

Most importantly, human trafficking survivors, many of whom have been raped, often need access to abortion care, and any lawmaker trying to deny them that can’t legitimately claim to be trying to help them. “Human trafficking survivors, overwhelmingly young women, deserve to have all reproductive health options available to them,” says Kate Stewart of Advocates for Youth. “This move by politicians is an underhanded attempt to harm women most in need.” Sadly, that’s what we’ve come to expect of them.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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