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Hyde, pro-life champion in Congress, dies

WASHINGTON (BP)–Former U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde, a pro-life leader in Congress for more than three decades, died Nov. 29, less than a year after he retired. He was 83.

Hyde’s death came four months after he underwent heart bypass surgery. He declined to run for re-election in 2006 after serving as a member of the House of Representatives from Illinois for 32 years.

Hyde’s congressional legacy is multi-faceted, but he probably is best known for an important piece of pro-life legislation that bears his name. He introduced what came to be known as the Hyde Amendment during his first term in the House. The measure, attached to a spending bill, barred Medicaid and other federal funds from paying for abortions. The law was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1980 and has gained passage in each subsequent congressional session.

Medicaid funded about 300,000 abortions in the year prior to the Hyde Amendment’s approval in 1976. The Hyde Amendment has saved the lives of more than one million, likely even two million, people, according to what the National Right to Life Committee described as a conservative estimate.

A tall, large man with white hair, Hyde did not limit his interest in the pro-life cause to his famous amendment but became probably the most eloquent spokesman for the sanctity of human life in Congress.

“Everyone who values the sanctity of all life, unborn as well as born, owes a deep debt of gratitude to the courageous leadership of Representative Henry Hyde,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, after learning of Hyde’s death. “There was no more tireless champion in defending the rights of the unborn in the halls of Congress than Henry Hyde. It is fitting that the amendment that bars federal funding for abortions bears his name.”

Rep. Mike Pence, R.-Ind., described Hyde in a written statement as “a lion of the right to life. Life has lost its lion and this world will miss his roar.”

Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., second possibly only to Hyde as a pro-life champion in the House, said in a written release, “In the great human rights issue of our time -– the right to life, Henry Hyde will always be known as a champion and great defender of children and their moms. With malice towards none, Henry Hyde often took to the House floor to politely ask us to show compassion and respect –- even love –- for the innocent and inconvenient baby about to be annihilated.”

President Bush awarded the Medal of Freedom to Hyde and seven other recipients Nov. 5. Hyde was unable to attend, but his son, Bob, accepted the award in his place.

At the White House ceremony, Bush said Hyde “used his persuasive powers for noble causes” and “was a gallant champion of the weak and forgotten, and a fearless defender of life in all its seasons.”

Hyde’s record also included staunch support for religious liberty and other human rights overseas.

He served as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee from 1995 to 2000, then the International Relations Committee from 2001 to 2006.

Under his chairmanship, the Judiciary Committee voted to impeach President Clinton in 1998, and Hyde served as the chief manager of the case against Clinton in the Senate.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.

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