Henry Hyde: Pro-Life Giant and Cherished Friend

We have lost a great hero. There is no question that Henry Hyde will go down in history as one of the central figures in the pro-life movement of the 20th century. He was one of a kind. He will be simply irreplaceable.

He served in the US House of Representatives for thirty-two years, but that wasn’t long enough, and now he is gone. His death is a major loss to the entire pro-life movement. Henry and I worked closely together since he first introduced the Hyde Amendment in 1976. Probably no other person in public office, here or abroad, has had the influence and certainly no one commanded the respect that he did.

The Hyde Amendment bans public funding of abortions through Medicaid. The year before it was passed, the federal government had paid for over three hundred thousand abortions for low-income women. Afterward, this number literally dropped to zero. That was thirty-two years ago, and the Hyde Amendment has been in place ever since, annually renewed each year by Congress. No one can estimate how many lives have been saved. Since that time, the total number of abortions done have exceeded one million every year. If we estimate that there would be perhaps ten per cent more if the government were footing the bill, we would come up with several million lives saved. This is awesome, but it is a fact. No other action of any individual or group, since that time, can claim an accomplishment even close to this. When President Clinton assumed office, the Hyde Amendment was threatened. In order to save it, Henry and our other resident hero, Congressman Chris Smith, allowed assault rape and incest exceptions to be added. With this concession, the Hyde Amendment stayed in place, and has remained unchanged since that time, while the number of abortions done under that rape and incest clause has been infinitesimal compared to the total lives it saved.

In April of 2006, Life Issues Institute presented Henry with our Hero At Heart award, given to select individuals who demonstrate outstanding courage or compassion on behalf of innocent life.

Congressman Chris Smith, upon whom we now hang the mantle of being the most influential pro-life lawmaker in Washington, has said, “Henry Hyde was one of the rarest, most accomplished and most distinguished members of Congress ever to serve. He was a class act. He was a man of deep and abiding faith, generous to a fault, with an incisive mind that worked seamlessly with his incredible sense of humor. Having served with this brilliant, one of a kind lawmaker, I know the world will truly miss him. Still we take comfort in knowing that Henry Hyde’s kind, compassionate and generous wit and ability will live on in the many laws he wrote to protect and enhance the lives of others.”

He was simply an extraordinary person. Championing, as he did a very controversial subject, i.e. protection for the unborn, nevertheless he had almost no enemies. He was gracious and respectful to everyone, including those who disagreed with him most vehemently. When he stood up to speak on the floor of the House, there was quiet as all eyes turned to him and everyone listened. Many was the time when there was a close vote coming and Henry stood and pleaded our side of the case. Often then, our side triumphed.

He was a gifted orator, a brilliant word craftsman and a wise and thoughtful legislator. Henry held the undying respect on both sides of the aisle. He was man of total integrity, fair and respectful. President Bush presented him, shortly before his death, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, calling him a powerful “defender of life,” and said that he was perhaps the most patriotic American he has ever met. Henry spoke with wit, passion and deep convictions, particularly about the right to life of the unborn.

An example of his eloquence was in 2000 when he spoke in support of the ban on partial-birth abortions. He stated that this was a question, not of religion or public policy, but of basic human dignity. “We are knee deep,” he said, “in a culture of death. Look at this advanced democracy in this year of 2000. Is it our crowning achievement that we have learned to treat people as things? Our moment in history is marked by a mortal conflict between a culture of life and culture of death. God put us in the world to do noble things, to love, to cherish our fellow human beings, not to destroy them. Today we must choose sides.”

I will remember with real satisfaction over a decade ago when Steve Chabot was first elected from my own congressional district in Cincinnati. There was an opening on the House Judiciary Committee. I talked to Henry and suggested that Steve be appointed to that position. He took my advice. Steve turned out to be one of the leading pro-life members of Congress, being the prime sponsor and lead supporter of a number of crucial pro-life bills that have been passed. On any number of occasions, Henry later thanked me for suggesting Steve, telling me once that we hit a homerun in putting him on the committee.

Time goes on, and Henry has gone to his well-deserved reward.

Well done, Henry, you have been a good and faithful servant.

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