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Henry Hyde, the man behind the anti-abortion amendment Biden now opposes

A former suburban Chicago GOP lawmaker, Rep. Henry Hyde, who died in 2007, authored the Hyde Amendment banning federal funds for most abortions.

U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill.
U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., who died in 2007, served 16 terms in the House of Representatives.
AFP/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential 2020 frontrunner Joe Biden, who hits Chicago on Wednesday for fund-raising, just did an about-face on the Hyde Amendment, ending his long support for the provision banning federal funds from being used for abortions, with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.

The former vice president’s flip-flop Thursday night came after intense criticism from other Democrats on high alert as abortion restrictions are, or likely will be, in place in Alabama, Georgia and Missouri, with other GOP-controlled states in the pipeline.

Biden’s turnabout throws the Hyde Amendment once again into the spotlight at a time when Democrats also are considering impeaching President Donald Trump.

Only one man in U.S. history so thoroughly bridges the sizzling, contentious issues of abortion and impeachment: former Rep. Henry Hyde, a Republican who once represented a west suburban Chicago district.

Who was Henry Hyde?

A Catholic and staunch abortion foe who authored his signature amendment — yet was willing to buck his party and the NRA on gun control — and who, as Judiciary Committee chairman, presided over former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment.

Hyde was knocked off his moral pedestal during the impeachment saga when he was forced to admit his own affair during the 1960s.

Salon had the scoop – Hyde, then 74, acknowledged his five-year relationship with Cherie Snodgrass when both were married. Salon even published a photo with Snodgrass sitting on Hyde’s lap, which appeared on the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times on Sept. 17, 1998.

Though Hyde was in his 40s when he was carrying on, he tried to shrug it off as he was pursuing charges against Clinton, the president in trouble over his own affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky and investigated by independent counsel Kenneth Starr.

“The statute of limitations has long passed on my youthful indiscretions,” Hyde said, coining a memorable phrase.

”Suffice it to say Cherie Snodgrass and I were good friends a long, long time ago. After Mr. Snodgrass confronted my wife, the friendship ended and my marriage remained intact. The only purpose for this being dredged up now is an obvious attempt to intimidate me and it won’t work. I intend to fulfill my constitutional duty and deal judiciously with the serious felony allegations presented to Congress in the Starr report.”

Hyde was born in Chicago on April 18, 1924 and died at 83 on Nov. 29, 2007.

Raised in Rogers Park, Hyde attended the now-shuttered St. George’s High School in Evanston. After that, he joined the Navy and went on to earn an undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and a law degree from Loyola University.

Hyde’s path to Congress started with his election to the Illinois House of Representatives, where he served from 1967 to 1974, rising to majority leader while in Springfield.

Then living in Bensenville, Hyde was elected to Congress in 1974, a year after the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

During Hyde’s first term, he attached an amendment to an appropriations bill forbidding federal funds from being used for abortion, except to save the life of the mother. (Rape and incest were added as exceptions in 1993).

For all practical purposes, the Hyde Amendment hurts low-income women who depend on Medicaid — a state/federal program — to pay for their health care.

That’s what Biden alluded to when he said Thursday: “If I believe health care is a right, as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone’s ZIP code.”

The Hyde Amendment was implemented in 1977 and in one way or another, every Congress since has renewed it as the amendment was patched on to must-pass bills.

The 1986 Almanac of America Politics said Hyde, who “deeply opposes abortion and considers it equivalent to murder, believes the issue goes to the heart of what government is about. He has been ingenious in finding programs to which he can attach his amendments and in devising procedures that require them to be considered.”

BIDEN’S CHICAGO FUNDRAISER

Biden comes to Chicago Wednesday, his first fundraising swing in the city since jumping in the 2020 race.

The hosts are attorney William Singer, who has been raising money for Biden for at least 20 years; his wife, Joanne Cicchelli; Trish Rooney, a big fundraiser for former Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Equities Realty founder Robert Wislow and his wife, Susan.

A copy of the invitation obtained by the Sun-Times puts the price at $2,800 per person.

Singer said he expected “a couple hundred” to attend the event.

Of Biden’s Hyde amendment controversy, Singer said: “I don’t think it matters on the fundraiser, but I do think it’s an issue for the campaign and I think he’s handled it well and I think he’s put it behind him.”

We’ll see. The Democratic first primary debates are on June 26 and 27 in Miami.