Last week the Senate passed legislation meant to fight against human trafficking, an epidemic that affects millions of people worldwide and crosses boundaries of gender, race, and religious belief. This bill is especially relevant considering the recent tragedy in Europe where nine hundred migrants died attempting to travel from Libya to Italy in inhumanely overcrowded boats run by human traffickers. While heartrending, that number is just a tiny percentage of the 20.9 million people "subjected to forced labor as the result of human trafficking," according to International Labor Organization in the Global Economy Journal.
Unfortunately, the bill as passed won't provide all of the necessary services that survivors of human trafficking require to move past the traumatic period in their lives and attempt to begin anew. The religious right and their allies in the Senate managed to strip the victim's fund, as authorized within the bill's language, from financing abortions--even if the person was a raped.
This shameful failure to act morally in the interest of the harmed may placate religious conservatives, but its practical implication will be extreme suffering on the part of those the bill was intended to help. Survivors of human trafficking are usually destitute and disconnected from government services and, as a result, are unable to pay for the medical procedures they need in order to live a healthy life. By removing funding for abortion, Congress relegates them to either keeping unwanted pregnancies or jeopardizing their lives by attempting a dangerous abortion without proper care.
Humanists, as well as most religious people for that matter, place an appropriate emphasis on doing what we can to help others. But somewhere along the way, a small group of religious extremists in Congress decided that upholding dubious and outdated religious teaching was more important than assisting those who need our help most.
This action is the latest in a series of international policies put forth by our government that limit our ability to provide information about family planning and medical services abroad. America has had policies such as the Global Gag Rule, which Population Action International defines as prohibiting "funding to foreign aid organizations that provided abortion services." And of course there is the Helms Amendment, which the Kaiser Family Foundation notes "prohibits the use of foreign assistance to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortion." While the Gag Rule policy was rescinded in 2009 after nearly thirty years on the books, attempts in Congress to limit abortions, both at home and abroad, don't bode well for our country's future ability to provide complete medical assistance to those who need it but can't afford it.
As a nation, we must decide in the very near future whether protecting religious ideology is more important than protecting the vulnerable among us. Congress may have started down the wrong path on this issue, but the American people can pressure our elected representatives to reverse this course.