The following is a reprint of the speech that Illinois Congressman, Henry Hyde, gave on the floor of the House of Representatives on September 19, 1996. We would do well to remind ourselves that some of the most defenseless of our brothers and sisters still aren’t afforded “liberty and justice for all.” Hyde gave an excellent summation of reasoning to choose life instead of death. His words are inspiring to me and maybe you too.
Speaker: The gentleman from Illinois is recognized for 15 minutes.
Representative Hyde: I ask unanimous consent to revise and extend my remarks.
Speaker: Without objection.
Representative Hyde: And I also beg the indulgence of my colleagues not to ask me to yield, because I cannot and will not, and I would appreciate the courtesy.
I also want to say, briefly, that those who have charged us with politics, invidious politics for delaying this, ought to understand that Americans can’t believe this practice exists, and it has taken months to educate the American people and it will take many more months to educate them, as to the nature and extent of this horrible practice. That is one reason it has taken so long.
Now the law exists to protect the weak from the strong. That’s why we’re here. Mr. Speaker, in his classic novel, CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, Dostoevsky has his murderous protagonist, Raskolnikov, say, “Man can get used to anything, the beast.” That we’re even debating this issue, that we have to argue about the legality of an abortionist plunging a pair of scissors into the back of the tiny neck of a little child whose trunk, arms and legs have already been delivered, and then suctioning out his brains, only confirms Dostoevsky’s harsh truth.
We were told in Committee by an attending nurse that the little arms and legs stop flailing, and suddenly stiffen as the scissors is plunged in. People who say, “I feel your pain,” aren’t referring to that little infant.
What kind of people have we become that this procedure is even a matter for debate? Can’t we draw the line at torture? And baby torture, at that? If we can’t, what’s become of us?
We’re all incensed about ethnic cleansing. What about infant cleansing? There’s no argument here about when human life begins. The child who is destroyed is unmistakably alive, unmistakably human, and unmistakably, brutally, destroyed.
The justification for abortion has always been the claim that a woman can do with her own body what she will. Well, if you still believe that this four-fifths-delivered little baby is a part of the woman’s body, then I’m afraid your ignorance is invincible.
I finally figured out why supporters of abortion-on-demand fight this infanticide ban tooth and claw. Because, for the first time since Roe v. Wade, the focus is on the baby, not the mother, not the woman, but the baby, and the harm that abortion inflicts on an unborn child or, in this instance, a four-fifths-born child. That child, whom the advocates of abortion-on-demand have done everything in their power to make us ignore, to de-humanize, is as much a bearer of human rights as any member of this House.
To deny those rights is more than a betrayal of a powerless individual, it betrays the central promise of America that there is, in this land, justice for all.
The supporters of abortion-on-demand have exercised an amazing capacity for self-deception by detaching themselves from any sympathy whatsoever for the unborn child, and in doing so, they separate themselves from the instinct for justice that gave birth to this country.
Doctor C. Everett Koop, the last credible Surgeon General that we had, was interviewed by the American Medical Association on August 19th, and he was asked, “President Clinton just vetoed a bill on partial-birth abortions. In so doing, he cited several cases in which women were told these procedures were necessary to preserve their health and their ability to have future pregnancies. How would you characterize the claims being made in favor of the medical need for this procedure?” Quoting Dr. Koop, “I believe that Mr. Clinton was misled by his medical advisors on what is fact and what is fiction in reference to late-term abortions.”
Question: “In your practice as a pediatric surgeon, have you ever treated children with any of the disabilities cited in this debate? Have you operated on children born with organs outside of their bodies?”
Answer: “Oh, yes, indeed; I’ve done that many times. The prognosis is good. There are two common ways that children are born with organs outside of their body. One is omphalocele, where the organs are out but still contained in the sac composed of the tissues of the umbilical cord. I have been repairing these since 1946. The other is when the sac is ruptured. That makes it a little more difficult. I don’t know what the national mortality would be, but certainly more than half of those babies survive after surgery. Every once in awhile, you have other peculiar things, such as the chest being wide open and the heart being outside the body, and I have even replaced hearts back in the body, and had children grow to adulthood.”
Question: “And live normal lives?”
Answer: “Living normal lives. In fact, the first child I ever did with a huge omphalocele much bigger than her head, went on to develop well, and become the head nurse in my intensive care unit many years later.”
The abortionist who is a principle perpetrator of these atrocities, Dr. Martin Haskell, has conceded that at least 80 percent of the partial-birth abortions he performs are entirely elective. Eighty percent are elective, and he admits to over 1,000 of these abortions, and that’s some years ago.
We’re told about some extreme cases of malformed babies as though life is only for the privileged, the planned and the perfect. Dr. James McMann, the late Dr. James McMann, listed nine such abortions he performed because the baby had a cleft lip.
Oh, the President claims he wants to solve a problem by adding a health exception to the “Partial-Birth Abortion Ban.” That is spurious, as anyone who has spent ten minutes studying the federal law understands. Health exceptions are so broadly construed by the Court–not what we write–by the Court, as to make any ban utterly meaningless.
In his memoirs, Dwight Eisenhower wrote about the loss of 1.2 million lives in World War II. And he said, “The loss of lives that might have otherwise been creatively lived, scars the mind of the civilized world.” Mr. Speaker, our souls have been scarred by one-and-a-half million abortions every year in this country. Our souls have so much scar tissue, there isn’t room for any more.
It isn’t just the babies that are dying for the lethal sin of being unwanted or being handicapped or malformed; we are dying, and not from the darkness, but from the cold…the coldness of self-brutalization that chills our sensibilities, deadens our conscience and allows us to think of this unspeakable act as an act of compassion.
If you vote to uphold this veto, if you vote to maintain the legality of a procedure that is revolting, even to the most hardened heart, then please don’t ever use the word “compassion” again.
A word about anesthesia. Advocates of partial-birth abortions tried to tell us the baby doesn’t feel pain. The mother’s anesthesia is transmitted to the baby. We took testimony from five of the country’s top anesthesiologists, and they said this is impossible. That result would take so much anesthesia, it would kill the mother.
By upholding this tragic veto, you join the network of complicity in supporting what is essentially a crime against humanity.
For that little, almost-born infant, struggling to live, is a member of the human family, and partial-birth abortion is a lethal assault against the very idea of human rights and destroys, along with a defenseless little baby, the moral foundation of our democracy, because democracy isn’t, after all, a mere process. It assigns fundamental rights and values to each human being, the first of which is the inalienable right to life.
At the end of the 20th century, is the crowning achievement of our democracy to treat the weak, the powerless, the unwanted as things to be disposed of? If so, we haven’t elevated justice, we’ve disgraced it. This isn’t a debate about sectarian religious doctrine nor about policy options. This is a debate about our understanding of human dignity. What does it mean to be human?
Our moment in history is marked by a mortal conflict between a culture of death and a culture of life, and today, here and now, we must choose sides. I’m not the least embarrassed to say that I believe, one day, each of us will be called upon to render an account for what we’ve done and, maybe more importantly, what we failed to do in our lifetime. And while I believe in a merciful God, I believe in a just God, and I would be terrified at the thought of having to explain, at the final judgment, why I stood unmoved while Herod’s slaughter of the innocents was being reenacted here in my own country.
This debate has been about an unspeakable horror, and while the details are graphic and grisly, it has been helpful for all of us to recognize the full brutality of what goes on in America’s abortuaries day in and day out, week after week, year after year. We’re not talking about abstractions here, we’re talking about life and death at their most elemental, and we ought to face the truth of what we oppose or support, stripped of all euphemisms; and the queen of all euphemisms is choice, as though you’re choosing vanilla and chocolate, instead of a dead baby or a live baby.
Now we’ve talked so much about the grotesque. Permit me a word about beauty. I believe nothing in this world of wonders is more beautiful than the innocence of a child. Do you know what a child is? She’s an opportunity for love. And a handicapped child is an even greater opportunity for love.
Mr. Speaker, we risk our souls, we risk our humanity, when we trifle with that innocence or demean it, or brutalize it. We need more caring and less killing. Let the innocence of the unborn have the last word in this debate. Let their innocence appeal to what President Lincoln called the “better angels of our nature.” Let our votes prove Roskalnikov is wrong. There is something we will never get used to. Make it clear, once again. There is justice for all, even for the tiniest, most defenseless in this, our land. And I yield back the balance of my time.
Representative Hyde: Mr. Chairman, will you yield to me?
Representative Hyde: Did you say no?
Representative Hyde: N.O.?
Representative Hyde: Thank you.
Speaker: All time is expired.