167 days. That’s how long new Attorney General Loretta Lynch waited to be confirmed. After sailing through a confirmation hearing, the extremely qualified lawyer waited longer than the past seven attorney generals combined to have her nomination be voted on by the Senate. Unsurprisingly, she sailed through the vote, with 56 Senators voting for her, and 43 voting against. Ten Republicans joined all the Democrats in confirming Attorney General Lynch at the nation’s first African-American female Attorney General. Only Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) did not vote.
Interestingly, Senator Cruz also abstained from a vote held yesterday on S.B. 178, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act. This bill, in contrast to the somewhat close vote to confirm Attorney General Lynch, passed with the other 99 Senators voting in favor of the bill. How did a bill that was previously contentious enough to create an unprecedented delay for a presidential nominee pass with the support of almost every Senator?
The bill, as you may recall, was held up by a debate about whether or not funds could be used for abortions. The Hyde Amendment already is in place to prevent the use of Federal funds for abortion except in the case of rape, incest, or threat to the life of the mother (see this post for why that language bothers me). However, language in S.B. 178 would have expanded this rule to cover non-taxpayer funds, and make it even harder for victims of human trafficking to access abortions.
In the end, the Senate reached a compromise. The new bill will create two funds that support victims of human trafficking. One fund will be built by collecting fines from traffickers. It will be used to cover survivor services, and is not subject to the restrictions of the Hyde Amendment. The other fund will draw mostly from “community health center funds,” which are subject to Hyde restrictions.
A bona fide compromise! Except that the fund for survivor services doesn’t include healthcare, and therefore, even though it is not built with government funds, it cannot be used to help women access abortions, or other forms of reproductive healthcare. All types of healthcare will be supported through the second fund, which cannot be used to pay for abortions for victims of human trafficking, unless they happen to fit a small set of circumstances.
The confirmation of Loretta Lynch is indeed historic, and she will be an excellent attorney general. But her confirmation came on the heels of the continued disrespect for women's agency over their own bodies. Hopefully, Attorney General Lynch can use her position to begin to work against the seemingly never-ending flow of abortion restrictions put in place by governments around the country, but with 99 Senators supporting this bill, it will be an uphill battle.