Mitch McConnell accuses Democrats of going soft on 'modern-day slavery'
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky speaking at CPAC 2011 (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attempted to deflect criticism of anti-abortion language appended to an anti-human-trafficking bill by claiming Democrats were trying to revisit the culture wars, The Hill's Jordain Carney reports.

Republican Senator John Cornyn's The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act was not expected to meet with any opposition, and as recently as Monday of this week, it enjoyed bipartisan support. "I doubt if there will be problems on my side," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid told The Hill. "If there is, I will work to clear them."

On Tuesday, however, Democratic staffers noticed that a rider had been appended to the bill containing language that would apply the anti-abortion Hyde Amendment to the trafficking victims' fund -- which would restrict federal funding if the money was used to pay for abortions in cases that didn't involve rape or incest.

"This bill will not be used as an opportunity for Republicans to double down on their efforts to restrict a woman's health-care choices," Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) told The Washington Post. "It is absolutely wrong and, honestly, it is shameful. I know there are a whole lot of us who are going to fight hard against any attempt to expand the Hyde Amendment and permanently impact women's health."

On the Senate floor Tuesday, Sen. Cornyn said that "Democrats have supported legislation consistent with the Hyde Amendment for a long, long time. My hope is this: that members of the United States Senate will rise above this -- this agreement, this posturing, this attempt to try to play gotcha at the expense of these victims of human trafficking."

Sen. McConnell made a similar plea for compromise on Thursday, saying that "our Democratic friends have to resist the siren song of their pollsters who tell them that the path to victory lies in turning bipartisan bills into fights over cultural issues."

"Help is almost there for the vulnerable victims of these awful, awful crimes," he continued. "Surely no left-wing special interest group is more important than fighting modern-day slavery."

Sen. Reid shot back, saying that if Republicans want the bill to pass, "the solution is simple -- take abortion language out of the bill. Republican senators have a choice to legislate or hijack the debate. We can finish this bill in 20 minutes. The only thing that needs to be done is the language relating to abortion should come out of this bill."

The group that has spent more than a decade working to get the bill done in Congress, the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking, just wants everyone to put partisan bickering aside and get the bill passed.

In a statement, the group wrote that "the work to combat modern slavery and human trafficking has been an example of Congress’s ability to put partisanship aside in the interest of tackling a difficult and seemingly intractable problem. That willingness to be thoughtful, practical, and balanced in approach has proven successful in this work, and made tremendous contributions to the fight against this heinous crime."

However, the statement read, "the debate that is emerging over the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, S. 178, and the application of the Hyde Amendment to funds collected from perpetrators of human trafficking jeopardize this pragmatic balance in favor of a partisan confrontation that undermines the achievement of our joint goal of ending modern slavery in the United States and around the world."

"For these reasons, we urge all members of the Senate to turn away from this divisive debate and find a bipartisan approach to this new initiative to protect and serve the needs of survivors."