My Turn: Playing politics with human trafficking victims

Last modified: 4/8/2015 12:37:08 AM
In 2007, I led the effort to establish a commission to study and make recommendations on addressing human trafficking in New Hampshire. From that commission’s work, many of New Hampshire’s current laws and protections for survivors of human trafficking originated and have evolved. I’m pleased that this has remained a bipartisan effort, as it should be.

In my commitment to this work, I have learned victims of trafficking are often sexually exploited and in need of a variety of services and supports, including reproductive health care. In a survey of sex trafficking victims, seven in 10 women said they had at least one pregnancy while trafficked, and one-fifth of respondents reported five or more pregnancies. The women polled in the study also reported being forced to have sex with an average of 13 “buyers” a day, and more than half reported having had abortions.

These survivors need compassion, dignity, support and access to the full range of reproductive health care. Not condemnation and shame. And very real people need these things – right now. That’s why I’m deeply disturbed that Sen. Kelly Ayotte and her allies in Congress have hijacked important federal legislation in a cheap political attempt to further restrict access to safe, legal abortion – at the expense of those suffering in already vulnerable situations.

Here’s how it happened: Last month, the Senate was gearing up to pass the Justice for Victims of Human Trafficking Act, key legislation that would provide important protections and supports for survivors of human trafficking. The bill had bipartisan support and was on track to pass both chambers before it was discovered that Ayotte and her allies had inserted language into the bill that would limit abortion access for women who previously did not face constraints on their health care decisions.

Sen. Ayotte is an original co-sponsor of this bill and has now insisted that in order to provide relief to these victims the legislation must take away their ability to get the full range of reproductive care, including safe, legal abortion.

Making matters worse, they’re even holding up the nomination of Loretta Lynch – who would be the first African-American woman to serve as attorney general of the United States and has a record of prosecuting human traffickers – unless the bill is passed with the anti-women’s health measures intact.

There is no doubt that Sen. Ayotte has a long record of opposing women’s access to reproductive health care. She thinks employers should be able to deny their employees access to insurance coverage for birth control; has voted against funding for the family planning program, despite studies showing that for every public dollar invested, taxpayers save approximately $7; and she’s taken votes to block women and families from coming to Planned Parenthood health centers for quality, affordable, confidential health care.

Sen. Ayotte’s agenda is out of step with New Hampshire’s strong commitment to access to safe, legal abortion and bipartisan history on supporting victims of human trafficking. In fact, according to recent data from the American Values Atlas, New Hampshire has the highest number of residents in the country who believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases (73 percent).

As an original co-sponsor of this legislation and a member of the Senate majority, Kelly Ayotte is in a position to break the log jam to bring justice to victims of human trafficking. When she returns to Washington next week, I urge Sen. Ayotte to do what’s right for the women of New Hampshire and across this country and get her Republican colleagues to stop playing politics with human trafficking victims.

(Iris Estabrook is a former state senator who lives in Barrington. She currently serves as the board chairwoman for the Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund.)

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