The idea that human beings can be treated like property is not new. It’s as old as Pharaoh using the Israelites as tools to build his pyramids. It’s as old as the slaves who were counted as three-fifths of a man by the Supreme Court of this nation. It’s as old as the woman who, married to her rapist, could not claim injury because the law said you couldn’t be charged with stealing something — a vagina — you already owned.
And, to those of us who’ve been bleeding with righteous anger since that same law made unborn children maternal property in 1973, the insult to human dignity marches on unimpeded. There is an unbreakable cord that connects the ancient to the modern, and even though many who use sophistry and clever words to hide the biological and moral truth of abortion will vehemently deny the connection (because they must), it’s clear.
Never was that more apparent than in the recent battle over another form of bondage: human trafficking. This past month, the U.S. Congress was presented with an opportunity to alleviate the suffering of people who are caught up in the widespread, deadly and extremely lucrative commerce in human lives. As an immigration attorney who has come in contact with women and children who’ve been trafficked, I have firsthand knowledge of the hell they’ve experienced both across international borders and — most shamefully — in our own country. It is abuse beyond imagining, degradation beyond belief and the most effective way to kill the fragile spirit of the most vulnerable.
The proposed bill, aptly named the “Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act” (JVTA) would have provided funding for the victims of a wide range of crimes that fall under the definition of “trafficking.” Initially, it had full bipartisan support. That is, until a majority of the Democrats in the Senate realized that the bill would apply Hyde Amendment restrictions to the financial aid and would bar federal money from being used to fund abortions.
Actually, there was a fairly large exception to that bar, an exception that has existed for over four decades. Federal money can still be used to pay for abortions that terminate pregnancies arising out of rape or incest, or that endanger the life of the mother. This has always been the law, and the language to which the 41 Democrats objected simply extended it to the JVTA.
But the abortion lobby is a large and vocal one, and has the ear of the Democratic establishment. Once Harry Reid and his fellow Planned Parenthood groupies realized that they were voting for abortion restrictions, even though these restrictions had existed before a few of them could even spell the word “termination,” the legislative express train heading toward justice for society’s most vulnerable came to a screeching halt. It had hit the third rail: reproductive rights.
If there is one thing that all liberals and most Democrats cannot stand it is the appearance of restricting any woman’s ability to become “un-pregnant.” Even though the proposed bill would still allow Uncle Sam to pay for abortions where the woman had been raped, which is always a big red herring raised by pro-choice activists, this wasn’t enough. Opponents started yammering about how the Hyde Amendment is only supposed to apply to taxpayer money and that the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act would have included in its funding base criminal fines paid by convicted traffickers.
Here is the part where we start calculating how many angels are dancing on the head of a pin. Whether the money comes from John Q. Public on tax day, or whether it comes from a vile slave trader as part of his punishment, that money is “federal money.” Therefore, the whole argument that the Hyde Amendment doesn’t apply is a ridiculous, transparent and completely amateurish smoke screen set up by people who should know better.
Lost in all of this internecine wrangling are the true victims: the women, children and even men who have been sold into modern slavery and stripped of their dignity. Pawns in a power struggle between those who see all human life as valuable and those who need to pacify a demanding lobby, they are left without protection.
Pharaoh would be proud.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.
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