- The Washington Times - Monday, August 26, 2002

A bankruptcy overhaul bill on the verge of becoming law faces the prospect of being held up by pro-life Republicans in the House who oppose language they say would unfairly punish peaceful abortion protesters.
"This bill should be abortion-neutral and focus solely on reforming our nation's bankruptcy laws," said Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, who is gathering opposition, along with Rep. Joseph R. Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican.
The bankruptcy legislation, which has faced many hurdles and rewrites through the years, passed the House and Senate last year and emerged from the conference committee in late July, ready for final passage. It is designed to curb abuse of bankruptcy by forcing more debtors to pay if they are able.
But the conference report contains language crafted by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, that would prevent abortion protesters who have been fined from having those fines erased in bankruptcy.
House leaders brought the conference report to the floor during a flurry of activity before Congress adjourned for the August recess, but they pulled it when Mr. Smith and others voiced their concerns.
A House Republican leadership aide said the House would vote on bankruptcy reform when Congress returns this fall, but it is not clear whether that would be a vote on the current conference report or a bill identical to the conference report, minus the Schumer language. "That decision hasn't been made yet," the unidentified aide said.
Mr. Pitts and other conservatives say they will not vote for the bankruptcy bill conference report unless the language is removed, and they are encouraging their colleagues to do the same. Gabe Neville, spokesman for Mr. Pitts, estimates that at least 55 to 60 Republicans want the language removed. Mr. Neville said his office is using the August recess to educate people about the issue.
For months, the abortion protester issue remained the final hurdle to the bankruptcy legislation. In late July, bankruptcy conferees Mr. Schumer and Illinois Republican Rep. Henry J. Hyde a pro-life advocate who had opposed the language agreed to compromise language.
"Henry Hyde and Senator Schumer reached an agreement that protects peaceful protesters, and anyone who thinks that what Henry Hyde agreed to does not protect peaceful protesters is beyond the fringe," said Andy Katzman, a spokesman for Mr. Schumer.
The provision would prevent people from erasing in bankruptcy fines they receive for intentionally using force, threat of force or physical obstruction to injure, intimidate or interfere with a person trying to obtain or provide "lawful goods or services." The same proscription would apply to those who intentionally violate a court order protecting a facility or person that provides lawful goods or services.

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