Stalwart pro-life former Congressman dies
Henry Hyde’s 1976 amendment considered most
important piece of U.S. pro-life legislation
On Nov. 29, a former member of the House of Representatives who advanced one of the most important pieces of pro-life legislation in American history, passed away.
Henry Hyde died at the age of 83, the same month that President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work opposing abortion.
First elected in 1974, he introduced the Hyde Amendment two years later, which prohibited using taxpayer dollars to fund nearly all abortions in the United States. It was Congress’s first major legislative effort to limit abortion after Roe v. Wade (1973) and it repeatedly came up for renewal, sparking bitter debates about abortion.
Under the Hyde Amendment, abortion cannot be covered by any of the federal government’s health insurance programs, including health services on military bases. At the time, Medicaid paid for abortions for low-income women – 300,000 of them in 1976 alone.
Since then, the only change to the law, in 1993, was an exception enacted for cases of rape and incest or to save a pregnant mother’s life.
The New York Times reported that Hyde was surprised when the amendment passed in 1976, but what is more surprising is that it still stands more than three decades later. In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Hyde Amendment as constitutional. National Review said, “It is without question the most important piece of pro-life legislation ever to pass Congress.”
Dr. Wanda Franz, president of the National Right to Life Committee, said. “By conservative estimate, well over one million Americans are alive today because of the Hyde Amendment — more likely two million.”
Hyde was also a leading proponent of the ban on partial-birth abortion, joining Senator Rick Santorum in championing the cause in Congress three times before it finally passed and was signed into law in 2003.
Later, Hyde would become the face of the Clinton impeachment hearings as chair of the House Judiciary Committee from 1995-2001. Later, he chaired the House International Relations Committee (2001-2007). He used these positions to advance pro-life legislation, speak against pro-abortion judicial appointments and curtail American funding of abortion overseas.
Hyde also sponsored family leave programs, gun control and the United Nations Reform Act of 2005, which tied U.S. funding to institutional reform of the international body. He also opposed same-sex “marriage.”
But it was his pro-life position for which he will be most (and best) remembered. Nearly every newspaper lead on his death noted that he was “an abortion foe.“
When honoring Hyde with the Medal of Freedom, President Bush said the retired Congressman “served America with distinction” and that “during his career in the House of Representatives, he was a powerful defender of life and a leading advocate for a strong national defence and for freedom around the world.”
Gary Bauer, founder of the Family Research Council, said, “For more than three decades, Henry Hyde has stood strong and unshakeable against the growing ‘culture of death’ in America.” Bauer continued: “He has been an eloquent voice for the voiceless and a great inspiration to all of us who care deeply about the timeless values of faith and family.”
Dr. J.C. Willke, president of Life Issues Institute: “Henry’s death is a major loss to the entire pro-life movement. He and I worked closely together since he first introduced the Hyde Amendment. Probably no other person in public service, here and abroad, has had the influence – and certainly, no one commanded the respect – that he did. We’ll all keep trying, but none of us will ever be able to replace him.”
Hyde did more than just sponsor pro-life legislation – he was active on behalf of the movement. He was a character witness for Joseph Scheidler in NOW v. Scheidler and spoke to Notre Dame students to rebut Mario Cuomo’s “pro-abortion Catholicism.”
Hyde, a Roman Catholic, was born in Chicago in 1924 and served in the U.S. Navy in the Philippines. He married Jean Simpson in 1947 and they had four children and four grandchildren.
However, Hyde’s reputation was tarnished by scandal in 1998, while leading the charge against then-president Bill Clinton for lying under oath about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. It was revealed in Salon.com that from 1965 through 1969, Hyde had carried on an affair with Cherie Snodgrass, a married woman with three children. Jean knew about the affair and the Hydes reconciled and remained married until Jean’s passing in 1992. Hyde publicly admitted to the affair.
In 2006, he married Judy Wolverton.