As a solo pro-lifer over the years among my wife, my friends and journalists I work with I have been strengthened by knowing and learning from the late Henry Hyde on how to report on the degree to which this country can and is combating the culture of death from abortion to assisted suicide and the "futility doctrine" in a growing number of hospitals that certain lives are not worth living any more.
From 1975 to 2007, former U.S. Rep. Hyde, a force for life, was not only instrumental in limiting the number of abortions, he also voted for such measures the Family and Medical Leave Act and was vital in passing an American commitment to invest $5 billion for a five-year global program to curb the advance of HIV and AIDS.
Additionally, he supported the Women, Infants and Children's Nutritional Program, which lead House Democrat Barney Frank, who was not with Hyde on abortion, to tell The New York Times (Nov. 30) that the lawmaker from Illinois, "acted on the view that because he opposed abortion, that children would be born in difficult circumstances, and he felt an obligation to help them."
Hyde and I got to know each other in the 1980s, when I was reporting often on the decisions by an increasing number of parents and their physicians to deny medical treatment (and eventually life itself) to handicapped infants. In 1984, during a bitter debate in the House, Hyde championed an amendment to a bill extending the Child Abuse and Treatment Act.
This amendment, vigorously opposed by House liberals, would broaden the definition of child abuse to include the denial of medical treatment or nutrition to infants born with life-threatening conditions. To make that section work in real life, it included a mandate that each state in order to continue getting funds for child-abuse programs would have to put in place a reporting system that could be alerted whenever a handicapped infant was being terminally abused by denial of medical treatment or food.
What Hyde said that day on the floor of the House stands, in my mind, as one of the most powerful affirmations of equal protection of the laws concerning the fundamental humanity of everyone in this nation:
"The fact is that...many children...are permitted to die because minimal routine medical care is withheld from them. And the parents who have the emotional trauma of being confronted with this horrendous decision, and seeing ahead a bleak prospect, may well not be, in that time and at that place, the best people to decide...
"I suggest that a question of life or death for a born person ought to belong to nobody whether they are parents or not. The Constitution ought to protect the child. ... Because they are handicapped, they are not to be treated differently than if they were women of Hispanics or American Indians or black.
"(These children's handicap) is a mental condition or a physical condition; but by G-d they are human and nobody has the right to kill them by passive starvation or anything else."
The House voted 231-to-182 to pass the bill expanding the definition of child abuse to include the neglect of handicapped infants. (Barney Frank was among those in opposition.) After a tough battle, it also passed the Senate and the House-Senate conference.
My liberal friends couldn't understand despite that debate in the House how I could become a pro-lifer, and I kept reminding them that they prided themselves on working to assure justice for the underrepresented in this country, those mired in poverty or without competent legal help or otherwise without essential resources. Hyde, in his ultimately successful striving to end the grotesque child abuse of partial-birth abortion, made the same point:
"The people (other activists who) pretend to defend the powerless, those who cannot escape, who cannot rise up in the streets, these (are also human beings halfway outside the womb who) ought to be protected by the law. The law exists to protect the weak from the strong."
Hyde and I last spoke some months ago, when I was intent on tracking a House bill that would kill more human beings not yet born. He, of course, was on the case, and said to me, "You're a tiger on protecting life."
His 1976 Hyde Amendment banning the use of federal funds to pay for abortions has saved at least a million lives over the past 30 years. Compared to the tiger Hyde was, and remains in the effects of his advocacy of the life force, I'm just a pussycat. It was a great privilege to have known him.
Not long before his death, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush. Considering how many lives Hyde freed from extinction, it was utterly well-deserved.