DEMOCRATS WHO have been filibustering the Senate’s consideration of legislation to combat human trafficking cited concerns with language they claimed would greatly expand the reach of Hyde Amendment restrictions on abortion. But when John Cornyn (R-Tex.), chief sponsor of the trafficking bill and Senate majority whip, offered a compromise that would seem to answer their stated objections, it was rejected out of hand. Perhaps Democrats thought they could score political points, or maybe they didn’t want to anger their traditional allies in the abortion rights lobby. Either way, it became depressingly clear that what they weren’t thinking about was the needs of vulnerable people, mostly young women and girls, who are the victims of sex trafficking.
The stalemate over the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 has now occupied two weeks, and with the Senate next set to take up the budget, it’s unclear when — or how — the impasse will be resolved. At issue in the legislation, which had been expected to glide through the Senate with bipartisan support, is a provision — backed by Republicans and initially overlooked by Democrats — that would prohibit a new trafficking-victims compensation fund from being used for abortions save for exceptions covered by the Hyde Amendment. Democrats didn’t like the application of Hyde restrictions to funds that are not taxpayer dollars — the compensation fund was to be drawn from criminal fines — and they objected to the anti-abortion provision being in place for five years.
Mr. Cornyn responded by offering to create the compensation fund with an annual congressional appropriation drawing on the fines. Since all such appropriations are already covered by the Hyde Amendment, there would be no change in the political status quo on abortion. “Can they take yes for an answer?” asked Mr. Cornyn on Thursday, contending, “We’ve made a proposal to them to give them what they’ve asked for.” The answer was no.
Democrats unfortunately seem to believe that response is in their political interest. Not only are Republicans denied boasting rights for getting something done, but also Democrats don’t risk running afoul of the abortion rights groups that are scoring the vote. The ill-advised decision of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to hold up confirmation of Loretta Lynch, the first African American woman nominated to be attorney general, until the trafficking bill impasse is resolved only gives the Democrats a further motive, as the GOP can be hammered for stalling a highly qualified nominee for a top Cabinet position.
There are legitimate concerns about whether the Hyde Amendment’s provisions — it allows abortions only in the cases of rape, incest and danger to the mother’s life — are broad enough to cover young women forced into sexual exploitation. But the question of whether and how congressional appropriations can be used for abortions has long been settled, for better or worse. There is, as we wrote earlier this week, a reasonable way for the two sides to compromise on the trafficking bill, but both sides need to be reasonable. Sadly, that was not the case for Senate Democrats this week.
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