The recent debate over the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which has been stalled in the Senate for the past month, is what many senators have called a "sad irony" because it has prevented senators from confirming Loretta Lynch, President Barack Obama's attorney general nominee, who happens to be a well-known advocate for trafficking victims across New York's eastern district. The act has been delayed and filibustered by Democrats because of abortion language that they say Republicans injected without their knowledge, according to CNN.
This delay further stalled a vote on Lynch's confirmation, which President Obama has called "embarrassing," because it's the longest time any attorney general nominee has had to wait for confirmation since Ronald Reagan was president — a total of 168 days, according to CNN.
The two delays represent "politics at its worst," Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow told CNN on Monday. The expansion of the Hyde amendment was the heart of the debate about the bill. The Hyde amendment is "a common provision attached to most government funds for health programs that bars such funds from being used to pay for abortions," according to CNN. Republicans wanted to be sure that funds provided for trafficking victims still wouldn't pay for their abortions. But Democrats said they couldn't accept this addition of the amendment, since the only tax-payer funded support that sex victims would be using, under the bill, would be provided by fees paid by sex criminals, according to the Associated Press.
The "Compromise" That Still Limits Abortion Access
CNN called the deal reached a "a cosmetic fix that lets both parties claim a win," by letting Republicans say that no tax payer will have to fund abortions (even if that tax payer is a registered sex criminal) while also allowing Democrats to say they didn't allow the expansion of the Hyde amendment, which women's rights groups have labeled as a restriction on women's healthcare that discriminates based on class and race, according to The Nation.
In reality, the funding for sex trafficking victims will come from two places, neither of which will provide any funding for abortion services. First, funds will come from fees paid by sex criminals, which will only cover legal aid and law enforcement and not any type of health or medical care for survivors. Republicans and Democrats are claiming, though, that the language doesn't specify the Hyde amendment as the restriction. Second, funding for medical and healthcare services will come from money already appropriated by Congress for Community Health Centers, which are already subject to abortion spending restrictions under the Hyde amendment, according to the AP and CNN.
The "Sad Irony" Of Lynch's Delayed Confirmation
In an ironic twist, Lynch is well-known for her work on behalf of trafficking victims across New York's eastern district — a track record Republicans have not questioned, according to The Guardian. Prosecutors, officials, and victim's advocates familiar with Lynch's work say she is known for throwing sex traffickers in prison, breaking up prostitution rings, rescuing underage victims who were forced into sex trafficking rings, and reuniting mothers trapped in rings with children they'd lost.
Fortunately, now that a deal on the sex trafficking act has been reached, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, told the AP he expected a vote on Lynch in the next day or so. Lynch supporters have accused Republicans of delaying the vote because of her race and the fact that she's a woman, an accusation that they have denied, according to CNN. If confirmed, she will be the first black female attorney general.
Carol Robles-Román, deputy mayor of New York City who has worked with Lynch’s office to stop young girls from falling victim to sex traffickers, said Lynch had made “protecting the most vulnerable members of our society a hallmark of her tenure,” and called the delay of her confirmation as a result of the trafficking bill a "sad irony," according to The Guardian. Robles-Román told The Guardian:
The fact of the matter is, with this record, she has been one of the top leaders in the country around the fight against human trafficking.
Lynch's office specializes in breaking up prostitution rings. Her office in New York's eastern district delivered more than 55 indictments in human trafficking cases and also helped rescue more than 110 victims, including at least 20 minors, in the past 10 years, according to The Guardian. By arguing over what kind of funding sex trafficking survivors deserve and delaying the vote on Lynch's position, the Senate is also ironically delaying progress for those survivors.
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