To: House Judiciary Committee
From: Christopher T. Dodson, Executive Director
Subject: SB 2107 - Human Trafficking
Date: March 18, 2015

The North Dakota Catholic Conference supports SB 2107 and urges a do pass recommendation.

Human trafficking is an offense against the fundamental dignity of the human person and a crime against humanity. We must end this modern day slavery.

Victims of human trafficking are often lured by traffickers with false promises. False promises of education, financial security, and even love. Victims are very often poor, desperate, and oppressed. They often suffer physical, mental, and psychological abuse not only at the hands of their trafficker, but also at the hands of their ‘johns’ and even other victims as they all struggle to survive.

In addition, we as a society must also work toward changing attitudes. Whenever people engage in sexual servitude or turn away from unjust working conditions, they contribute to the environment that allows human trafficking to flourish. These actions ultimately impact real people and violate the dignity of a child of God.

SB 2107 is the “mainframe” for the state’s efforts to attack human trafficking. Its uniformity, improved clarity, increased penalties, and comprehensiveness, when combined with other efforts like SB 2199 (victim services) provide the tools for a multi-disciplinary approach to the scourge of trafficking.

Some misunderstandings have arisen about the limitation on the use of tax dollars for referring for abortions on page 10, lines 24-28 of the bill and the North Dakota Catholic Conference’s position on the bill. I’d like to take this opportunity to address those misunderstandings.

We requested the language at the first hearing on the bill for two reasons. First, we believe that state funds should not be used to refer for, or counsel in favor of, abortions. Second, the language maintains what has long been the policy of North Dakota.(1) By including the language in SB 2107, we hoped to prevent controversies about abortion and tax dollars rather than inserting them into the discussion on human trafficking. Nationally and locally there exists a push to use tax funding for abortion-related counseling, especially in the context of providing services to trafficked victims. North Dakota legislators, however, have consistently prevented the use of tax money for those activities and our efforts to help victims of human trafficking should not become a vehicle to change North Dakota policy on tax dollars and abortion.

What happened at the federal level concerning human trafficking and abortion referrals demonstrates why the language in SB 2107 is needed. In 2000, a bipartisan Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Among other things, it provided federal funding to help victims of human trafficking. It did not, however, explicitly prohibit funding for abortion referrals and counseling. For ten years, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) received the grant to administer the program, through which it subcontracted with various individuals and organizations, Catholic and non-Catholic, around the country.

In 2011 the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) re-opened the application process. As in the past, the USCCB scored significantly higher than all other applicants. Nevertheless, DHHS awarded the grants to three lower scoring applicants. A subsequent Congressional hearing revealed that USCCB was denied the grant solely because it would not refer for abortions, despite the fact that nothing prevented USCCB’s sub-grantees from referring and even performing abortions with other sources of funding. The absence of language in the authorizing legislation allowed for the Administration to change its policy.

The language in SB 2107 is preventive. By securing the status quo it takes the abortion issue “off the table” and allows for the bill’s passage and implementation.

It does
not prevent a grantee from referring individuals for abortion with their own funds. It does not prevent a grantee from using state funds to refer a victim to another agency which, in turn, might refer a victim for an abortion. In fact, nothing in the bill prevents a grantee - even with state money - from referring a victim to any of the state’s nine family planning clinics, all of which are required by federal law to provide referrals for abortion, if asked.(2)

Moreover, the language does not, and cannot, limit constitutionally protected speech.

The provision only preserves the status quo that tax dollars should not be used for referring for abortions. It does not restrict access to abortion or make anything illegal. Even people in favor of abortion rights are uncomfortable with using tax money for anything related to abortion. The provision strikes a necessary balance that clears the way for focusing on addressing human trafficking.

We urge a Do Pass recommendation on SB 2107.

(1) N.D.C.C. sec. 14-02.3-02. “No funds of this state or any agency, county, municipality, or any other subdivision thereof and no federal funds passing through the state treasury or a state agency may be used as family planning funds by any person or public or private agency which performs, refers, or encourages abortion.” N.D.C.C sec. 15.1-19-06. “No person while acting in an official capacity as an employee or agent of a school district may refer a student to another person, agency, or entity for the purpose of obtaining an abortion.” Finally, by exclusion, the language of N.D.C.C. section 50-06-26 ensures that the state’s alternatives to abortion program does not fund the counseling for or referring for abortion. To that end, the contract the Department of Human Services has with service providers expressly prohibits them from using even their own funds to: “Counsel for, refer for, encourage, or perform abortions,or knowingly refer an Alternatives to Abortions client to another person or agency for the purpose of counseling for, referral for, encouragement for, or the performance of an abortion.”

(2) In this respect, SB 2107 is less restrictive than existing state policies. The Abortion Alternatives Program prevents participants from using even their own funds to refer for abortions or to refer to another agency that would refer for an abortion.