Editorial: Abortion debate shouldn’t stop bankruptcy bill

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 27, 2002

It took a year to work out a compromise on a new federal measure that would change bankruptcy laws to hold more people accountable for their debts, and now it’s in danger of falling apart because lawmakers can’t resist injecting abortion politics into the matter.

The bill would force more people who can afford it into Chapter 13 bankruptcy &045; where debts are repaid over years through a court-approved system &045; instead of Chapter 7, where debtors end up free from their debts entirely. While some consumer advocates have balked at the idea, which has been long sought by banks and credit-card companies, the measure would only affect those people who make enough money to be reasonably expected to pay off their debts. The safety net for those overwhelmed by debt would still be in place.

Holding people accountable for their spending decisions in this way, where appropriate, makes sense, but the bill is being held up because one provision would stop people fined for illegal protests at abortion clinics from using bankruptcy to escape paying the fines. It’s hard to imagine that part of the bill affecting more than about ten people, but because of it, a few key Republicans are withdrawing their support.

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It’s hard to say who’s at fault &045; the anti-abortion lawmakers who are stopping legitimate legislation, or the pro-abortion crowd who probably inserted the provision to bring about just this kind of consequence, making Republicans look extreme in an election year.

Either way, getting unrelated legislation mixed up in the never-ending abortion debate is a sure way to make any Washington fight much worse. If lawmakers want to debate bankruptcy’s use for abortion-related issues, they should do it separately and let the measure live or die on its own merits &045; not use it to hold back other laws that could make a difference.