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VIEWS AND VOICES
Republicans pay tribute to Henry Hyde
Good riddance to a bigot

October 27, 2006 | Page 12

IN SEPTEMBER, at a testimonial dinner for retiring Illinois Congressman Henry Hyde, Vice President Dick Cheney declared, "If you know Henry Hyde, you delight in his company, you listen to what he has to say, and you value his good opinion. None of this is going to change when Henry retires. He is leaving the House on the best possible terms--at the height of his intellectual powers, his place in history secure, his greatness beyond question."

Cheney and others went on to further fawn over Hyde--who is retiring from the House of Representatives after 30 years--for his easy-going manner, his bonhomie, intellectual honesty, and his moving and persuasive arguments.

If you had arrived late to Hyde's September testimonial sponsored by the Jesse Helms' Center and didn't know who the guest of honor was, you might have thought that the speakers were referring to Plato, Socrates, Leonardo Da Vinci or even Jesus Christ--but not Henry Hyde.

Such praise from the Republican establishment for one of their own is predictable, but sometimes it has gotten them into trouble.

People may remember a few years ago at a testimonial dinner for retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), then-Republican Majority Leader Trent Lott praised the infamous racist as "the greatest living American." Thurmond, first as a Democrat and then as a Republican, devoted himself to maintaining Jim Crow segregation and opposing all civil rights legislation. In the ensuing controversy, Lott was forced to step down as majority leader.

But it says something about the rotten state of mainstream politics that a woman-hating bigot like Hyde, who has fanatically devoted himself to ending the legal right to abortion in this country, can receive such fawning accolades with virtually no dissent.

Henry Hyde was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1975 and soon made a mark for himself by proposing an amendment to a major appropriations bill the following year banning the use of federal Medicaid matching funds for abortion. Known since then as the "Hyde Amendment," it was one of the first major defeats for abortion rights after the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States.

Hyde's successful attack was only possible, however, with significant support from the Democratic Party. The Democrats, who promoted themselves for many years as the "pro-choice" (but never say "abortion") party, controlled the House from the moment Hyde came into office until the mid-1990s. The Hyde Amendment passed year after year with significant support from Democratic congressmen.

In 1977, when newly elected Democratic president (and multi-millionaire plantation owner) Jimmy Carter was asked whether the Hyde Amendment was unfair to poor women, he responded, "Life is unfair." This contemptuous attitude summed up the mindset of the top leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties when it came to working-class women's access to abortion.

The effect of the Hyde Amendment was quick and deadly. In 1977, Rosie Jimenez, a Mexican-American, single mother living in Texas, discovered that she was pregnant and needed an abortion. She was raising one daughter and going to college while surviving on a meager welfare check. She was six months away from getting a degree in special education.

When her doctor told her that Medicaid funding was no longer available (Texas along with 32 other states ended state Medicaid funding for abortion after the Hyde Amendment passed), she realized that her only choice was an illegal abortion for around $60. She went with a friend to the rundown house of a local, illegal abortionist in McAllen, Texas.

The following day she developed severe cramps and bleeding and was rushed to the hospital. Rosie had no feelings in her legs and had purple swelling around her eyes. She had contracted a rare infection that comes from dirt or feces coming into contact with the bloodstream. The disease destroys red blood cells and blood vessels and turned Rosie's blood a greenish brown. She was in agony for eight days before she died on October 3, 1977.

Rosie Jimenez became the most well-known victim of Henry Hyde, but not the only one. Her death only seemed to whet his appetite for more victims.

From the early 1980s through the 1990s, federal employees, military personnel (and their dependents), Peace Corps volunteers and Native Americans living on reservations were added to the list of those banned by the Hyde Amendment from using federal funds for abortion. In 1998, Hyde no longer had to seek an annual renewal of his infamous amendment--it became law.

It should be remembered that Henry Hyde was not just content to wage war against women's rights in the halls of Congress. He supported one of the worst anti-abortion terrorists in the country--Joseph Scheidler.

As the founder of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League (PLAL), Joseph Scheidler terrorizes women seeking abortion across the United States. He authored the book Closed: 99 Ways to Stop Abortion, which advocates, among other things, tracking women entering abortion clinics through their license plates and leaving violent messages on their answering machines.

In 1998, Scheidler and the PLAL went on trial in federal court in a civil suit brought by the National Organization for Women for violating the Racketeer Influenced Corrupted Organizations Act and carrying out 121 acts of extortion, conspiracy and threats of physical violence.

Hyde testified as a character witness for Scheidler, calling him a friend and a hero. "He has the guts that I wish more of us had," declared Hyde. Scheidler lost the suit and was ordered to pay triple damages.

Henry Hyde will soon be gone from Congress, but the damage that he has done to abortion rights has been severe. During the time that his power soared, the women's rights movement disintegrated in this country.

A completely new movement will have to be built to take back what was lost, and build the kind of future where such bigots as Henry Hyde are put on trial rather than toasted.
Joe Allen, Chicago

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