The U.S. Senate was criticized for blocking an anti-human trafficking bill on Tuesday because Senate Democrats objected to the inclusion of anti-abortion language.
"Stopping human trafficking is too important a priority to be held hostage by the abortion lobby's culture-warring," Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in a statement.
"I urge the Senate to think about vulnerable women and children in peril, rather than about the political maneuvers of the abortion-industrial complex."
The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act enjoyed bipartisan support two weeks ago, but on Tuesday failed by five votes to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to advance the bill. USA Today reported that a second vote to end debate on the underlying bill also did not receive the needed amount of votes.
The bill, which is sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and received 13 Democratic co-sponsors, looked to increase penalties for anyone convicted of slavery, human smuggling and sexual exploitation of children. Fines collected from the offenders would go into funds to help the victims.
Democrats have protested against a provision in the bill that sought to block any funds collected from being used to perform abortions, with the exception in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother's life is in danger.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, who changed his vote to "no" to allow him to bring the bill up again later, warned Democrats about going against the bill:
"If Democrats actually vote to filibuster a bill to help victims of modern-day slavery, I can't imagine the American people will forget," he said, adding that the filibuster is "a historic mistake."
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, argued, however, that if Republicans really care about the anti-human trafficking bill passing, they should agree to remove the anti-abortion language.
"If we're speaking for those who have been the victims of human trafficking, we ought to listen to them," Leahy said. "This (abortion provision) is not something they're asking for."
Leahy clarified that the funds for the victims will not be coming from taxpayer money.
"We're talking about money collected from the very offenders who have already controlled too much of the lives of these women and girls. These survivors deserve more options, not fewer," he said, according to The Huffington Post.
Non-profit groups, such as the Human Rights Project for Girls, expressed their disappointment at the failure of the bill.
"Unfortunately, the debate that has emerged over the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act is undermining this important piece of legislation that would help thousands of vulnerable children ensnared in the commercial sex trade," the group said.
"We therefore strongly urge members to turn away from this polarizing debate on the (abortion) amendment, and instead find a bipartisan solution that transcends political divisiveness in order to honor the lives and needs of trafficked children in America."