Hyde, Henry J.

Hyde, Henry J.
Apr. 18, 1924-Nov. 29, 2007
American congressman


Henry J. Hyde was first elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1974 as one of a handful of Republican freshmen to win office in the face of the public revulsion against the Watergate scandal. Since then, he has emerged as an articulate spokesman for his party's dominant conservative forces and the most conspicuous, and arguably the most passionate, opponent of abortion in Congress. He is perhaps best known for the Hyde amendments, a series of riders to annual appropriations bills that since 1976 have restricted public funding of abortions for poor women. A Roman Catholic champion of the national antiabortion movement, Hyde has never wavered in his conviction that human life begins at conception, and he therefore condemns all abortion, even in cases involving rape or incest, as murder. His ultimate goal remains a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion except as an inevitable consequence of saving the life of the mother.

As a senior minority member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee, Hyde was a forceful advocate of United States military assistance to the Contra rebels in their unsuccessful struggle to topple the Marxist-led Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. During the nationally televised Iran-Contra hearings in 1987, he was perhaps the most eloquent defender of President Ronald Reagan's Central American policy and the covert activities of the National Security Council aide Lieutenant Colonel Oliver L. North.

Henry John Hyde was born in Chicago, Illinois on April 18, 1924 to Henry Clay Hyde, a coin collector for the local telephone company, and Monica (Kelly) Hyde. He attended a Roman Catholic parochial elementary school and graduated from Saint George High School in nearby Evanston in 1942. Having received a basketball scholarship, he entered Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C., on whose team he played in the National Collegiate Athletic Association Eastern championship game in 1943. The following year Hyde dropped out of college to be commissioned an ensign in the United States Navy. Serving with the Seventh Fleet in the South Pacific, he took part in the invasion of the Philippines. After his discharge, as a lieutenant, junior grade, in August 1946, he resumed his studies at Georgetown University, where he obtained a B.S. degree in the following year. In 1949 Hyde received a law degree from the Loyola University School of Law in Chicago. He was admitted to the Illinois bar on January 9, 1950. Hyde remained on active reserve until he retired with the rank of commander in 1968, having served as officer in charge of the United States naval intelligence reserve unit in Chicago.

Having been reared in a solidly Democratic home, Hyde voted for the Democratic candidate, Harry S. Truman, in the presidential election of 1948, but he had already become disenchanted with what he perceived as the leftward drift of the party. "I was raised a Democrat by my family," he explained to Richard Mackenzie for an article in the Washington Times supplement Insight (August 31, 1987), "but I became concerned during the war about the far Left and the inordinate influence it was having with the Roosevelt administration, especially [with] Eleanor, then with the direction the Democratic party was going in postwar Europe." In 1952 he campaigned in Chicago for Dwight D. Eisenhower for president, and six years later he formally reregistered as a Republican. After practicing law in the Chicago area for about a decade, Hyde entered politics as a precinct captain at a time when Republicans in the city were struggling with little success against the well-oiled political machine run by Mayor Richard J. Daley. He later compared the plight of Republicans in Daley's Chicago with that of blacks in the South before the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

In 1962 Hyde agreed to be the sacrificial Republican candidate to challenge Roman Pucinski, the entrenched Democratic incumbent of the Eleventh Congressional District in northwestern Chicago. Four years later Hyde was elected to the first of four successive terms in the Illinois state house of representatives, where, as a staunch conservative, he supported the death penalty and more stringent antidrug legislation and opposed the Equal Rights Amendment for women. In spite of his controversial stands, he was named the "best freshman representative" by an association of Illinois political reporters. During 1971 and 1972 he served as majority leader and, in his last term, ran unsuccessfully for the post of speaker. Although Hyde was gratified by his discovery during his years in Springfield that he had a knack for legislative work, he wearied of the political infighting and considered returning to the private practice of law.

Acting on the advice of friends, Hyde instead decided to enter the race for the seat of retiring Republican congressman Harold R. Collier in 1974. Although he was familiar with only part of the Sixth Congressional District of Illinois, then comprising Chicago's western and northwestern suburbs and including Chicago O'Hare Airport, Hyde topped a six-man primary field with 49 percent of the vote. Because the district had long been a conservative Republican bastion, Hyde in normal times could be expected to coast over his Democratic opposition, but, in 1974, in the first congressional elections held since the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon after the Watergate scandal, the GOP was understandably nervous about its open seats. Moreover, the Democratic candidate, Edward Hanrahan, was popular in the conservative district because, as Cook County state's attorney, he had authorized a widely publicized, though highly controversial, raid on the radical Black Panthers organization in 1971. Hyde nevertheless managed to defeat Hanrahan by 53 to 47 percent, and he has been reelected handily ever since. Following the 1980 census, the Sixth District was redrawn to encompass Chicago's westernmost suburbs, including Wheaton.

Quickly emerging as a rising star of the party, Hyde was elected chairman of the seventeen-member freshman Republican class in Congress that year. He also won coveted appointments to the Judiciary and Banking and Currency committees, and, by the end of his first term, he had gained national attention as the acknowledged leader of the antiabortion forces in the House. In June 1976 Hyde, together with Republican Robert E. Bauman of Maryland, set out to determine how members of the House of Representatives felt about abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision, in 1973, that set forth a woman's right to end an unwanted pregnancy under certain circumstances. With little expectation of victory, Hyde hastily drafted in longhand an amendment to the fiscal 1977 appropriations bill for the departments of labor and health, education, and welfare barring federal funding of elective abortions under the Medicaid program.

To Hyde's astonishment, the rider passed and became law on October 1, 1976. Although it was struck down as unconstitutional three weeks later by Judge John F. Dooling Jr. of the federal court in Brooklyn, New York, and a subsequent version was negated in 1978 by Judge John F. Grady of the United States District Court in Chicago, the Supreme Court in June 1980 upheld by the barest majority the right of federal or state governments to refuse to finance abortions, thus vindicating the basic principle behind the Hyde Amendment.

By attaching similar riders to annual appropriations bills ever since, Hyde has succeeded in reducing the number of federally funded abortions each year from hundreds of thousands to a few thousand. The only excuse for abortion that Hyde will condone is to save the life of the mother, since, under such circumstances, he does not consider such a procedure an abortion but a necessary treatment of a disease threatening the mother. Following the Supreme Court's Webster decision in July 1989, which allowed states more latitude than at any time since 1973 to restrict abortion rights, the Hyde Amendment was seriously challenged by Congress for the first time. In October legislation was passed that allowed federal funding of abortions in cases of rape or incest, but President Bush vetoed the bill, vindicating Hyde's strict antiabortion position.

Despite criticism that he is insensitive to the suffering of the victims of sexual assault, Hyde is unshakable in his defense of the unborn. "The killing of an innocent human life," he argued in an interview with U.S. News & World Report (May 4, 1981), "is not an equal trade-off for the emotional and physical damage from the crime of rape or incest. The fetus has committed no crime. Killing the unborn child would be an admission that there are values superior to human life, and I don't recognize any value superior to human life."

Hyde's unflagging zeal springs from his firm conviction that human life begins at the moment of conception. Although his position echoes that of the Roman Catholic church, he bristles at suggestions that his commitment is rooted in blind faith. "The hell with religion," he was quoted as saying in People (August 22, 1977) magazine. "Let's talk medical facts. That fertilized egg may be an appendage to a woman's body, but it is a different being. It's human life, not a bad tooth to be pulled out. If you leave it alone it will be an old man or old lady someday."

Heartened by the tide of conservatism that attended the election of Ronald Reagan as president and the Republican takeover of the Senate in 1980, Hyde tried to codify his notion of what constitutes life in legislation that he introduced in co-sponsorship with the Republican senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina in 1981. The Helms-Hyde bill declared simply that "actual life begins from conception," a pronouncement that would have enabled states to outlaw abortion as a form of homicide. Although pro-choice groups predictably opposed the measure, antiabortion forces also criticized Hyde for settling for legislation that is subject to judicial review, instead of pressing for a constitutional amendment to ban abortion. Although Hyde has consistently supported such an amendment as the most certain way to reverse the Supreme Court's 1973 ruling, he has conceded that his objective is nearly impossible in the face of public opinion polls that show a majority of Americans support legal abortion. The Helms-Hyde bill died in committee, partly because of uncertainty over its effect on the legality of such popular contraceptives as the birth control pill and intrauterine devices, which act after conception.

During the 1984 presidential election campaign, in which abortion became a major issue, Hyde engaged Mario Cuomo, the Democratic governor of New York, in an indirect debate over the role of Roman Catholic public officials on the abortion question. In separate appearances at the University of Notre Dame, the two men epitomized the deep division in the church over whether abortion was an issue of public or private morality. Cuomo argued that Roman Catholic public officials should not attempt to foist their religious objections on the majority of Americans who favor legal abortion. In his well-received rebuttal on September 24, in which he rejected the notion that religious values have no place in political debate, Hyde called on Roman Catholic politicians to ignore the public opinion polls and join in saving the more than one million fetuses legally aborted each year. "The duty of one who regards abortion as wrong," he declared, "is not to bemoan the absence of consensus against abortion but to help lead the effort to achieve one." He went on to encourage the federal funding of adoptive services and other alternatives to abortion and called for an end to the present welfare system, which, he charged, fosters illegitimate births.

Sensitive to criticism by pro-choice forces that the right-to-life movement has been so consumed by the rights of the unborn that it has neglected the welfare of the born, Hyde has in recent years promoted better health care for pregnant women and the taking of steps to reduce infant mortality. In February 1989 he joined Democratic congresswoman Barbara Boxer of California, a pro-choice advocate, in cosponsoring legislation that would make it a crime to arrange the birth of a child through a surrogate mother. The Boxer-Hyde measure would not impose penalties on the surrogate mother or the prospective parents but would rather penalize the baby brokers, whom Hyde has compared to slave merchants. "By reducing childbearing to an occupation," Hyde has said, "surrogacy arrangements attack the essential human dignity of every person."

Hyde also joined liberals in voting to extend the Voting Rights Act for another twenty-five years, but only after undergoing a conversion of sorts during hearings on the bill before the Civil and Constitutional Rights Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee in 1981. A longtime opponent of the 1965 civil rights legislation requiring southern states with a record of racial discrimination to obtain federal clearance before altering their election laws, Hyde conceded that the law had been effective but objected to its extension on the grounds that it continued to punish the South long after blacks had secured the right to vote without harassment. "What this law does," Hyde declared in an acrid exchange with civil rights leaders testifying in favor of the extension, "is to label a handful of states as racist. Yes, it's worked. Yes, it's been a good law. Yes, there was a rational basis for it. But sovereign states of this country, after the experience of the civil rights movement and all, chafe at being labeled racist." But after hearing compelling testimony of continued efforts to thwart black registration, Hyde relented. "You're being dishonest if you don't change your mind after hearing the facts," Hyde told Steven V. Roberts of the New York Times (July 19, 1981). "I was wrong, and now I want to be right."

As a member of the Western Hemisphere Affairs Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Hyde consistently supported the Reagan administration's Central American policy of arming the Contra rebels in their struggle to overthrow the Marxist-led Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. He also served on the so-called Iran-Contra committee created to investigate the Reagan administration's trade of arms for hostages with Iran and the diversion of some of the profits from that trade to the Contras. Hyde emerged as a principal defender of the administration and of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver L. North, the central figure in the scandal. "You are a dangerous person," he told North during the nationally televised hearings on July 13, 1987. "And the reason you are is you personify the old morality-loyalty, fidelity, honor, and, worst of all, obedience….But remember, everybody remembers Billy Mitchell and nobody remembers who his prosecutors were." Hyde later denounced the panel's majority report, which blamed the Reagan administration exclusively for the fiasco, as "a bitterly political document." He believed that the conflicting Central American policies of the White House and Congress were "a recipe for gridlock" that well-intentioned individuals in the White House had sought to circumvent.

As the ranking Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Hyde has criticized Democrats on the panel for selectively leaking classified information for partisan advantage and questioned whether Congress was able to oversee the operations of the intelligence community responsibly. He blamed what he called "the calculated, politically motivated leaking of highly sensitive information" for the distrust that had arisen between Congress and the Central Intelligence Agency. In 1984 he recommended the creation of a joint intelligence committee to end the feuding between the House and Senate panels and to reduce the number of staff members with access to classified documents, a recommendation that eventually was incorporated into the majority report of the Iran-Contra committee.

During the race for the post of Republican whip in March 1989, Hyde came under pressure from some Republicans to run as a compromise choice between Newt Gingrich of Georgia and Edward Madigan of Illinois. Hyde's partisan, yet congenial, style seemed to fit neatly between the combative nature of Gingrich and the traditionally passive resistance to the majority that Madigan represented. But Hyde refused to challenge Madigan, who is an old friend and colleague. Not even a last-minute draft to stave off a narrow Gingrich victory could persuade him to run.

In the debate over the proposed bailout of the nation's troubled savings and loan institutions in 1989, Hyde sought to dilute a central portion of the bill favored by President George Bush. Aided by lobbying by the United States League of Savings Institutions, Hyde sponsored an amendment that would have applied to those savings banks that had taken over failed competitors under federal regulatory supervision. The amendment would have required an administrative hearing before a regulatory body on whether due process required an extension of time to meet the increased capital requirements. The practice of converting on paper the excess of liabilities over assets into goodwill and using that intangible asset to help the surviving institution to meet the capital requirements imposed by federal regulators became commonplace during the 1980s and was a major incentive for healthy savings and loan associations to purchase failed ones. But President Bush, who was committed to ending the practice, threatened to veto the bill if it included the Hyde Amendment, which then was killed by a margin of more than three to one.

The silver-haired and portly Henry J. Hyde stands six feet, three inches tall and weighs about 260 pounds. Esteemed by his colleagues for his ready wit, he is a forceful speaker, skilled debater, and gifted raconteur. Since November 8, 1947 he has been married to the former Jeanne Simpson of Arlington, Virginia, whom he met at a basketball game and who worked to help put him through law school. They have four children: Henry Jr., Robert, Laura, and Anthony. Hyde enjoys reading biographies, watching television, and smoking quality cigars, even if they come from Marxist Cuba.

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