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Senate unanimously passes anti-trafficking bill

Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (L) (R-KY) takes questions from the media following the Senate policy luncheons at the U.S. Capitol April 21, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Win McNamee, Getty Images

The Senate unanimously passed a human trafficking bill Wednesday afternoon, 99-0, after prolonged debate over a controversial anti-abortion provision.

Leaders in the upper chamber reached a deal late Tuesday addressing the GOP-backed Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which charges heavy penalties against convicted sex and labor traffickers. The bill's passage was delayed after Democrats objected to anti-abortion language they said was snuck into the bill last month.

Democrats said the provision in question, which prevent tax-payer dollars from being used for abortions,went further than similar anti-abortion clauses that Republicans have added to past laws. Typically, the restriction against using funds for abortions (referred to as the "Hyde amendment") has been applied only to taxpayer funds. In this case, however, the rule would apply to the victims' fund, even though it will be financed by fees paid by sex criminals.

A group of bipartisan lawmakers found a compromise, while keeping the abortion restrictions in place for the new fund. Money collected from sex criminals will be used for services like legal aid, while victims' health services will be funded by taxpayer money (and thus cannot be used for abortions).

"This compromise is evidence that when Democrats and Republicans sit down together and work toward a solution, good things can happen," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz did not vote on the bill. The House passed their version of the human trafficking bill in late January.

The bill's passage paves the way for a Senate vote on attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch, expected Thursday.