Sens. Cornyn and McConnell: Shutting down the Senate to force sex slaves to bear their rapists' children
It should have been fairly straightforward. But then, this is the Republican Party we're talking about. Over the course of the past couple of weeks, a bipartisan Senate bill that was originally expected to be uncontroversial has turned into an embarrassment, with Republican implacability about abortion rights on full display.
S. 178, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA), was expected to pass easily. It made its way out of the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously. The legislation would give law enforcement organizations more expansive tools to go after traffickers, in addition to creating a restitution fund supported by fines collected from those convicted of related crimes. Now, it's an open question whether a bill that focuses more on expanding the powers of law enforcement rather than direct assistance to trafficking victims is the right policy, but that debate notwithstanding, it seemed like everyone in Congress agreed that this bill was the best approach. That is, until the Senate Democratic Caucus found out that a version of the Hyde Amendment, which restricts federal funding for abortion, had somehow made its way into the bill.
The presence of this language has effectively killed the bill for now, as Democrats have sufficient numbers to deny the bill cloture as long as it contains that language. Republicans are refusing to strip the language from the bill, even though the House version of the bill doesn't contain the provision and the bill's sponsor has said it has no business being there. Still, Republican leadership is so insistent on the anti-abortion provision that they have banged their heads against the wall with five doomed cloture votes, are lambasting their House colleagues for not including the language in their version of the bill, and are refusing to even consider the nomination of Loretta Lynch for attorney general until the bill passes as is.
More below the fold on this mess.
Republicans have been claiming that the anti-abortion language they tried to sneak into the JVTA without anyone noticing is similar to typical Hyde Amendment language that has been featured in annual appropriations bills for the past many years, but it's not. To begin with, the Hyde Amendment prevents federal funds from being used for abortions (subject to rape, incest and health exceptions, but more on those in a bit). But the money that the Hyde Amendment seeks to restrict are taxpayer-funded programs. The victim restitution fund that would be created by the JVTA isn't taxpayer-funded in that sense; instead, its funding structure is dependent on fines collected from convicted traffickers. But Republicans are seeking to restrict even that. And secondly, while typical Hyde Amendment language has to be renewed on an annual basis, the anti-abortion language in the JVTA extends for the entire five-year authorization of the restitution fund.
But let's revisit the exceptions in the Hyde Amendment. Supposedly, the idea is that if you're a woman on Medicaid and you get pregnant from rape and want to get an abortion, the Hyde Amendment will allow Medicaid to pay for the procedure. In actual practice, these exemptions don't work out so well:
How does the Hyde exemption work? Not as intended, for one thing. A recent study (pdf) from Ibis Reproductive Health found that over half of eligible abortions — that is, of pregnancies due to rape or incest or in cases where continuing the pregnancy would threaten the mother's life — conducted for Medicaid beneficiaries were not reimbursed by the program. By and large, hospitals and doctors who did not get Medicaid reimbursements said that the paperwork for getting the money was too onerous, and it was easier to fund the procedures from nonprofit groups that focus on assisting low-income women with abortion funding.
Only 37 percent of women ended up getting eligible abortions funded by Medicaid. As a consequence, a quarter of women on Medicaid who planned on getting an abortion ended up giving birth instead, according to a study (pdf) by the Guttmacher Institute.
Now let's move on to the specific situation faced by underage victims of sex trafficking. First, they're not the likeliest group to be able to afford to cover the costs of their own abortions. Second, they're more likely to need abortions
because they are often raped by multiple clients a day. Third, it's not certain that courts view the people in this situation as rape victims to begin with. And fourth, even if they did, it's hard to see how hospitals and clinics would treat victims attempting to get an abortion reimbursed through the JVTA fund any differently than they would a Medicaid patient.
The consequence of the Hyde Amendment language in the JVTA is that teenage sex slaves will be forced by circumstance to give birth to the children of the johns who raped them. It would be easy for Republicans in the Senate to fix this. They should simply drop the language from the bill and make it align with the language of the House version. Theoretically, they could even add a provision clarifying that underage victims who got pregnant while being trafficked should automatically be considered rape victims for the purposes of the Hyde Amendment language. But they're not doing any of that.
Instead, Senator Cornyn, Majority Leader McConnell, and their colleagues have chosen to die on this hill. They refuse to let the bill pass unless it has language that will impose forced birth on teenage sex slaves. They are refusing to hold a confirmation vote on Loretta Lynch unless they can keep the provision that will impose forced birth on teenage sex slaves. And they are so desperate that they have scheduled five cloture votes that they know will fail in an attempt to ram through the language that will impose forced birth on teenage sex slaves.
Now, it's true that there's a substantial wing of the conservative movement that overtly cheers forced birth for teenage sex slaves, but didn't Sen. McConnell say that the new Republican majority in the Senate would be a force for reason and collaboration? Well, it seems instead that Senate Republicans are giving their extremist colleagues in the House a run for their money. With a special emphasis on making sure that kids who are forced into prostitution bear the offspring of the men who raped them.
You know, family values.