Hyde Your Amendments

There has been gridlock around the anti-human trafficking bill in the Senate, and I promise that is the last traffic-based pun I will make at the expense of human trafficking.

The debate about the anti-human trafficking bill came to a standstill today when the Senate failed to achieve the necessary 60-vote cloture to end debate on the bill, and put the bill up for the real vote. Unlike the cloture votes of years passed, this one was tanked by Democrats, not Republicans.

Why do Democrats want to prevent an anti-human trafficking bill? Why does anyone want to prevent an anti-human trafficking bill? Human trafficking is widely regarded as a terrible thing, and I would guess every member of the Senate is opposed to it on moral grounds alone, to say nothing of the illegal activities it facilitates. Why would the Democrats prevent a bill that would create a fund for victims of human trafficking and tools for law enforcement officials to fight human trafficking?

The answer is, surprisingly, abortion. Democrats discovered last week that included in the human trafficking bill is an extension of an amendment called the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal funds from being used for abortion except in cases of rape, incest and a threat to the life of the mother. This bill would expand that amendment, and prevent any funds, Federal or otherwise, from being used for abortion, except in cases of rape, incest and threat to the life of the mother.

(An editorial aside, I don’t love the phrase “threat to the life of the mother” because with an average of 650 women in the US dying in childbirth every year, a maternal mortality rate that puts us below Belgium, Bosina, and Kuwait, most pregnancies in this country could turn into a “threat to the life of the mother.” Pregnancy is dangerous, and a woman should be allowed to decide for herself if she wants to go through it or not.)

To prevent that amendment from being passed, Democrats filibustered the bill, or prevented it from obtaining 60 cloture votes. Senator McConnell (R-KY) held the cloture vote twice, and Democrats ensured that it failed both times.

What complicates this story is that Senator McConnell is refusing to hold a confirmation vote for Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s appointee for attorney general, until the human trafficking bill is passed. Democrats, who hope to see a confirmation for Lynch as soon as possible, say that they will pass the bill as soon as the ban on funding is removed. Republicans counter by saying that the Democrats should be embarrassed that they are filibustering the bill, and should just vote to end debate on the bill so it can move on to a final vote. We’ve seen how well these groups work together in the past, so it’s likely that we will not see the bill passed, let alone Loretta Lynch’s confirmation, for awhile.

First Published: March 17, 2015