Pro-life advocates are warning that Senate Republicans have included a provision in the critically important National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that could enable millions of dollars designated to fight sex trafficking to be used to promote or fund abortion.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., introduced legislation last year called the End Modern Slavery Initiative Act (EMSI), which essentially would create a congressionally chartered non-profit, public-private entity that would receive funding from the United States government, foreign governments and businesses to give to organizations to help end human trafficking around the world.
Although such an intergovernmental private-public partnership might seem like a no-brainer, pro-life organizations are opposing the legislation because it does not include basic pro-life protections to guarantee that money will not be used to fund or promote abortion.
"All money that is appropriated by Congress is subject to long-standing prohibitions on those funds being used for abortion," said Micah Johnson, communications director for Corker, to The Christian Post.
"Most significantly, the Helms Amendment applies to foreign assistance funds and states that 'no funds … may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.' All of the funds authorized in the National Defense Authorization Act flow through the appropriations process, which are fully covered by the Helms restriction," he explained.
According to the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, Corker successfully lobbied Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., to add language from the EMSI legislation to the must-pass NDAA that would create the aforementioned entity and provide $37.5 million per year in U.S. taxpayer dollars without pro-life protections.
A March for Life press release explains that the lack of pro-life protections could mean that recipients of the funds would likely be big abortion corporations instead of "groups holistically dedicated to fighting the scourge of trafficking."
Tom McClusky, March for Life's vice president of government affairs, told The Christian Post on Thursday that the lack of pro-life protections in the provision could allow abortion organizations like Marie Stopes International and International Planned Parenthood Federation to receive these funds.
"When there are issues of trafficking, issues of pregnancy will come up," March for Life President Jeanne Mancini told CP. "There would be a conflict of interest, of course, with organizations that provide abortions and make money off abortion and there could be some pressure and coercion. Certainly, our government funds could actually go to either promote or pay for abortion."
Although the provision does not include pro-life protections, there are statutes in place that prevent U.S. taxpayer dollars from being used to fund or promote abortions.
The Helms Amendment, enacted in 1973, states that "No foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions."
Additionally, the Siljander Amendment states that no taxpayer funds "may be used to lobby for or against abortion."
One of Corker's aides told the Daily Signal that "all the funds authorized in the amended version of [EMSI] will flow through the appropriations process, which [is] fully covered by the Helms restriction."
However, McClusky points out that the Helms Amendment has a reputation for not being adhered to in the field and that there is a real need for stronger pro-life protections. Plus, the Helms Amendment only governs the use of U.S. taxpayer dollars and does not have authority over money coming from foreign governments and businesses.
"That is why we would like to see that if we are contributing and establishing an entity like this, no funds should be going to abortion because of the fungibility argument. With what oversight we would have, American taxpayer dollars should not be used in anyway to subsidize abortion," McCluskey asserted. "We are having that fight on the national level when we go up against Planned Parenthood. That is why it is so disappointed that Senators Corker and McCain are setting us up for this fight on the international level for years to come."
"You would expect this from folks who are advocating for abortion but this is coming from our people," Mancini noted. "They are pro-life and they are not helping victims of trafficking or the pro-life cause."
It is believed pro-life protections were not added to the initiative because other countries have indicated that they will not take part in the initiative if it includes pro-life protections.
"Whenever a country gives foreign aid, it should be given to things that reflect the principles of that country. If other countries disagree with those principles, maybe they aren't the ones to partner with," McClusky said. "Offering abortion to women who have been trafficked is further making them victims. It is not helping them. The U.S. should not be partaking in that. We shouldn't be creating more victims, we should be helping the ones that are out there."
The addition of the EMSI provision to such a critical piece of legislation that specifies the budget and expenditures of the Department of Defense comes without warning to pro-life organizations.
While the House version of the NDAA passed on Wednesday without the EMSI provision included, the Senate version with the EMSI has yet to be voted on.
"While we would like to see it struck [down] on the Senate floor but there is not a pro-life majority in the Senate right now. There is a Republican majority but not a pro-life majority," McClusky explained. "When you have somebody like Senator Corker and McCain, while well-intentioned, they can't turn around and vote against their own bill. It would be very difficult I think to strike in the Senate."
Experts at the Heritage Foundation are also calling for stronger pro-life provisions to be added to the initiative.