The Slatest

Democrats Block Anti-Sex-Trafficking Bill Because of Pro-Life Provision

Sen. John Cornyn, a sponsor of the anti-sex-trafficking bill, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Today Democrats blocked anti-sex-trafficking legislation because it includes an anti-abortion provision. The legislation is largely uncontroversial—breaking news: people are against sex trafficking—and passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously. But Democrats say they didn’t realize at the time that the legislation they voted for included a provision limiting the use of funds to pay for abortions.

As my colleague Josh Voorhees explained Monday, the legislation sets up a fund to pay for services for human trafficking victims, and also dictates that these funds can’t be used to pay for abortions. Republicans typically insert similar provisions—known as the Hyde amendment—into spending bills, barring federal taxpayer dollars from being used to pay for abortions except in cases of rape and incest. But as Burgess Everett detailed at Politico, Democrats argue that the funds allocated for victims under this legislation should be available to pay for abortions since they are culled from fines on perpetrators of sex trafficking, rather than from tax dollars. In short, Democrats won’t let this anti-sex-trafficking legislation pass unless it allows funds to be used to pay for abortions.

So today, the bill’s supporters failed to garner the 60 votes necessary to overcome a procedural hurdle. A handful of Democrats joined the Senate Republicans to vote for the legislation (Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana), but it wasn’t enough to get it through. As a result, the legislation’s fate in the Senate doesn’t look particularly bright.