Senate passes trafficking bill 99-0, ending long abortion fight

The Senate on Wednesday passed legislation aimed at curbing human trafficking, ending a monthlong fight over abortion that bitterly divided the parties and held up attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch.

The legislation, which was approved 99-0, would create a special fund to help victims of sex crimes, bolstering efforts to combat what advocates decry as “modern-day slavery.”

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But it was the bill’s language on abortion that received the lion’s share of attention in a floor battle that began in March.

Democrats repeatedly blocked an earlier version of the proposal, arguing it would create an expansion of the Hyde Amendment, which restricts the use of federal funds for abortions.

The deal that resolved the stalemate requires money for the victims’ fund to come from two sources: criminal fines and money that Congress previously appropriated.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Trump asks court to block release of tax returns to Congress | Private sector adds 330K jobs in July, well short of expectations Senate panel advances first three spending bills McConnell lays out GOP demands for government-funding deal MORE (R-Ky.) touted the vote as a win for Republicans and anti-abortion groups, saying that under the agreement, the trafficking legislation “won’t violate longstanding, bipartisan Hyde precedent.”

Republicans also shot down a last-ditch effort by Democrats to strip the abortion provisions from the legislation, which if successful would likely have killed the bill.

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySenate panel advances first three spending bills McConnell lays out GOP demands for government-funding deal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge MORE (D-Vt.) urged his colleagues to remove “the divisive language that limits victims services and has held us up for so long."

"Congress has a long history of passing legislation to address human trafficking," he said. "We've consistently done so without abortion politics being in the discussion."

But Leahy was ultimately unsuccessful, with Democratic Sens. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseySenate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines Biden celebrates anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act Lawmakers introduce bipartisan Free Britney Act MORE Jr. (Pa.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellySupreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda Republicans fret over divisive candidates Everybody wants Joe Manchin MORE (Ind.) and Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSenate rejects GOP effort to add Trump border wall to bipartisan infrastructure deal Youth organizations call on Biden to ensure 'bold' climate investments Democrats barrel toward August voting rights deadline MORE (W.Va.) voting against him.

But Democrats also claimed victory in the abortion fight, arguing that they blocked a Republican attempt to expand the abortion restrictions to private funding.

“We started this fight against a bill that applied Hyde to non-taxpayer dollars for the first time and brought in no real money for trafficking victims,” a Democratic aide said. “We’re now in a much better place.”

Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayWhite House trying to beat back bipartisan Cornyn infrastructure amendment The infrastructure bill creates more need for workforce training Democrats consider scaling back new funds to fight next pandemic MORE (D-Wash.) also touted the agreement, saying Democrats were able to “reach a deal that gets this done in a way that does not expand restrictions on women’s health to non-taxpayer dollars or to new programs.”

The trafficking legislation was expected to be an opportunity for bipartisanship in the Senate after the divisive fight over illegal immigration and funding the Department of Homeland Security. But Democrats said Republicans hoodwinked by including the abortion provision in the trafficking legislation.

Republicans denied hiding the language, and the office of Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharDemocrats barrel toward August voting rights deadline Manchin 'can't imagine' supporting change to filibuster for voting rights Hillicon Valley: Democrats urge tech CEOs to combat Spanish disinformation | Amazon fined 6M by EU regulators MORE’s (D-Minn.), one of the sponsors, admitted that an aide knew the it was in the bill.

The fight over abortion funding quickly turned into a heated rhetorical battle, galvanizing outside groups and providing fodder for attacks on senators running for reelection in 2016.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which opposes abortion rights, praised the final legislation.

“This deal ensures no money in the fund is used for abortion and that any funding for health services is subject to the longstanding Hyde Amendment,” she said. “This entire incident has revealed what pro-lifers have long known to be the case: the Democratic Party is entirely beholden to the abortion industry.”

Pro-abortion rights organizations vowed to keep up the fight.

Debra Ness, the president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, said that even with the deal, “trafficking survivors will still face unconscionable restrictions to accessing the reproductive health services they need.”

“We commend Senators Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidWhite House seeks to shield Biden from GOP attacks on crime issue Lobbying world Warner backing 'small carve-out' on filibuster for voting rights MORE [D-Nev.] and Patty Murray and every senator who stood strong for women’s health,” she said in a statement. “We pledge to continue this fight. The Hyde Amendment is callous, punishing and discriminatory and it must be repealed.”

In addition, Wednesday’s vote paves the way for a vote on Lynch’s nomination, potentially as early as Thursday.

Republicans touted passage of the bill as another sign that they are getting the Senate back to work.

"None of us are spiking the football or saying we've done miraculous things,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynWhite House trying to beat back bipartisan Cornyn infrastructure amendment Senate GOP shifts focus to fight over Biden's .5 trillion budget McConnell warns Schumer cutting off debate quickly could stall infrastructure deal MORE (R-Texas) said. “But it's undeniable that we've made discernable, concrete progress on important matters.”