Lawmakers are using human trafficking to disguise anti-choice legislation

May 5, 2015

If there’s anything the anti-choice movement loves more than passing bills to keep people from making decisions about their own lives, it’s couching those bills within other issues to make them seem more palatable. In a move that is particularly callous, the anti-choice movement is using the terrible crime of human trafficking to manipulate the public in their never-ending quest to demonize and attack abortion providers.

Human trafficking – the recruitment, harboring, transporting, or procurement of a person for labor or services for the purpose of involuntary servitude, slavery or forced commercial sex acts – is the fastest growing business of organized crime and the third-largest criminal enterprise in the world. Here in Texas, we’re outranked only by California in human trafficking survivors and Houston has the most human trafficking survivors among U.S. cities. It’s certainly a growing threat that should be addressed with pragmatic legislation, especially in our state, and that legislation should always aim to identify and assist survivors in the best way possible.

Health care providers are in a unique position to identify human trafficking survivors (one study shows that 28% of victims will seek health care while under the enslavement of their captors), particularly emergency rooms, community health providers, dentists and others. However, the two bills proposed this legislative session only require human trafficking training for one type of health care provider: abortion clinics.

We know what you’re thinking: why would someone use a  devastating issue like human trafficking to push an anti-choice agenda in a state that already has so few abortion providers? Who would use the tragedy of sex trafficking to achieve political gain?

SB 1873 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R) and its companion bill HB 416 by Rep. Debbie Riddle (R) represent not only another legislative attempt to over-regulate abortion clinics, but also a dire lack of understanding about the populations of human trafficking victims that live in Texas. Both bills apply only to abortion clinics of which, because of targeted efforts from previous legislative sessions seeking to restrict access to abortion, there are very few left.

If Campbell and Riddle really cared about identifying victims of human trafficking, they wouldn’t use the issue as a vehicle to pass more laws that would be yet another regulation on abortion care.  Their assumption that the few abortion providers left should carry the sole responsibility of identifying human trafficking victims is irresponsible, ignoring the true nature of the crime and experts’ research. Both lawmakers should instead be modeling legislation after the recommendations of The Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force, which makes recommendations on what the Legislature should do to combat human trafficking. During the 2013 Legislative Session, Rep. Senfronia Thompson passed HB 1272 to not only continue the task force but also to develop curriculum and tools for all medical providers.

The good news is abortion providers already provide comprehensive training on human trafficking, domestic violence and coercion to their staff and clinic workers are devoted to assisting their patients in violent situations. The patients’ personal safety is of the utmost concern, and they’ve been doing one-on-one counseling sessions with their patients for years – they didn’t need the state of Texas to mandate it. But if the Legislature is going to require this training, they should do so in a comprehensive way that is most likely to help the maximum amount of survivors.

SB 1873 and HB 416 should be amended to reflect the true nature of human trafficking and not exclude all health care at facilities survivors might encounter. Not expanding these bills to include all medical providers represents a serious missed opportunity for intervention. If Campbell and Riddle really want to claim that they intend to counteract human trafficking in an effectual and research-based manner and not just make it harder for abortion providers to operate, they should accept an amendment.