Abortion vs. Sex Trafficking in Albany and D.C.
When it comes to the politics of human trafficking, the Democrats in Washington could learn a lot from the Democrats in Albany. New York Democrats -- a phrase that hardly bespeaks moderation -- have seen the results of denying aid to modern-day slaves over abortion, and they are fleeing in retreat.
In the U.S. Senate, Democrats recently brought a vote on the Justice for Victims of Human Trafficking Act to a screeching halt because an obscure provision would restrict abortion funding. As it turns out, it would affect a minuscule amount of money. Since the language, which is based on the Hyde Amendment, contains a rape exception -- and since sex-trafficking victims are rape victims -- these "limitations on spending wouldn't have anything to do about the services available under this act," as Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas) said on the Senate floor this week.
The bill applies the Hyde Amendment to victim-compensation fees taken from traffickers, and not merely taxpayer subsidies, which does represent a further restriction -- albeit of the most modest kind. Theoretically, it could deny abortion funds to labor-trafficking victims or those who become pregnant through consensual sex. This tiny risk to a fraction of Planned Parenthood's bottom line caused Democrats to launch a filibuster and -- with four notable exceptions -- to vote against cloture on Tuesday.
Seeing Senate Democrats filibuster a bill to fight human trafficking over abortion, state legislators in New York must have thought they were watching Groundhog Day. One day earlier, they had brought their own two-year-long abortion battle to an end.
In 2013, New York governor Andrew Cuomo proposed the Women's Equality Act, a ten-point plan that included commonsense proposals for human trafficking, domestic violence, and discrimination against pregnant women. It also contained the largest abortion expansion in state history -- eroding restrictions on late-term abortion, allowing non-physicians to perform abortions, and forcing religious hospitals to violate their conscience or lose state funding.
"I see it almost as a bill of rights," Governor Cuomo said as he unveiled the legislation, refusing to abandon the abortion plank. "We don't believe you have to give up any of the ten." The Democrats who control the state assembly insisted the package had to be adopted en masse, holding up nine bills aimed at improving women's lives because the Senate's Republicans and Independent Democrats would not endorse the abortion language.
The state Senate, led by Republican Dean Skelos, blocked the abortion bill for two years, questioning whether expanding abortion access was necessary in the state with the highest abortion rate in the nation. The anti-trafficking act's sponsor, Democratic assemblywoman Amy Paulin of Scarsdale, asked that her bill be allowed to pass as a standalone measure but was repeatedly denied. All the while, women suffered.
The standoff held until Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D., Manhattan) was arrested in January for taking nearly $4 million in bribes. His replacement, Democrat Carl Heastie, finally allowed the chamber to vote on the bill that would stiffen penalties against human traffickers. The state assembly passed it unanimously on Monday. Even Cuomo says he supports the decision to address "an injustice that simply cannot be allowed to continue in New York."
How things have changed. Just last year, Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul were so invested that they created a Women's Equality Party ballot line to promote the act, abortion provision and all. Cuomo's reversal is a sign of how quickly the "war on women" theme could implode. In 2014, those most fixated on gynecological politics -- from Wendy Davis to Sandra Fluke, and Mark Udall to Martha Coakley -- went down in flames.
Failing to help sex slaves is doubly egregious, not to mention politically unwise. America brims with compassion for human beings being sold to the highest bidder, and the vast majority of Americans oppose taxpayer funding of abortion. Polls show anywhere from 58 percent to 72 percent of Americans oppose taxpayer-funded abortion -- with women more opposed than men in the most recent Marist poll. If anything, the Hyde Amendment -- passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by a Democratic president -- is not restrictive enough, because in some circumstances U.S. taxpayers can still be compelled to underwrite abortions.
Either way, Planned Parenthood's empire is hardly imperiled. President Obama has turned the spigot of taxpayer funding into a fiscal fire hose. Cecile Richards's $400,000 salary remains secure -- which is far more than can be said for today's indentured servants.
After two years of political warfare, New York Democrats have admitted that holding human-trafficking victims hostage for the billion-dollar abortion industry is a losing proposition. Isn't it time for Washington Democrats to follow their lead?