BP This Week

A Bankrupt Bill

    According to Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-PA), "there is something terribly wrong with America's bankruptcy laws." Despite record economic growth, the number of personal bankruptcies has nearly quadrupled in the past two decades. That's why both houses of Congress, with bi-partisan majorities, have passed reforms to the law. These reforms would make it harder for some people with assets to use the bankruptcy laws to avoid paying their debts. Yet even with these majorities and the perceived need for reform, the otherwise-sound bill has a huge problem. That's because one senator has turned this legislation into an assault on the rights and equality of pro-life Americans. That senator is Charles Schumer of New York. Schumer has added an unrelated amendment to the senate version of the bankruptcy bill. It specifies that civil penalties imposed on protesters under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE, cannot be discharged -- that is, canceled by bankruptcy. FACE imposes penalties on anyone who, through the use of force or the threat of force, intimidates or otherwise interferes with a woman entering an abortion clinic. Current federal law already says that bankruptcy cannot be used to avoid paying criminal fines imposed under FACE or any other federal law. But that is not enough for Schumer and his allies. They are targeting those who have not been convicted of any criminal act. They're going after people who have been sued for pro-life activities under civil statutes. And Schumer freely admits that his target is pro-life protesters. No one else will be affected by his amendment -- one group, singled out for discriminatory treatment. While the amendment copies FACE's language almost verbatim, it doesn't mention FACE. That leaves open the possibility that pro-life protesters who violate other laws -- federal, state, or local -- will also be covered by this bill. And, remember, we're not talking about people who have committed acts of violence. There are already laws that cover them. We're talking about peaceful protesters: housewives, teachers, and nuns who, in many cases, are doing nothing more threatening than praying the Lord's Prayer in front of the clinic. Prayer vigils, picketing, and other non-violent actions could be swept up in this legislation. This is precisely the kind of activity, however, the Constitution is supposed to protect. But, as Justice Antonin Scalia has put it, pro-life Americans are a "disfavored class" in the nation's courts. I don't know about you, but this makes me furious. Pro-life citizens are being singled out for treatment that no other group of Americans, no matter how unpopular their views are, have to face. As Representative Pitts, a great congressman and a great Christian, puts it, thanks to the bill, "ladies who sit out on the sidewalk and pray . . . [might have] to write checks to Planned Parenthood for the rest of their lives." Thanks to the efforts of Representative Pitts and others, there's still time to stop this outrage. You need to contact your representative and senators right away. Tell them that, however important bankruptcy reform might be, it cannot come at the expense of singling out one group -- in this case, pro-lifers -- for what amounts to government persecution and harassment. If they can do it to one group, everyone is vulnerable. Take action: You can reach your representative at the Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121. Tell your representative and senators that Sen. Schumer's amendment and its unequal treatment of pro-life individuals has no place in the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act. For further information: Read further dissenting views to the bankruptcy bill here and here. Joseph R. Pitts, "Menace lurking in the bankruptcy bill," Washington Times, 10 September 2002. "Rep. Pitts blames Schumer for bankruptcy impasse," press release from the office of Congressman Joe Pitts, 17 September 2002. "Abortion Spat Delays Bankruptcy Bill," CBS News, 27 July 2002. Wendy Wright, "Sen. Schumer Attaches Anti-Pro-Life Bias to Bill," CWA, 10 September 2002. Peter Kreeft, How to Win the Culture War: A Christian Battle Plan for a Society in Crisis (InterVarsity Press, 2002).


Chuck Colson


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