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Where the court feared to tread, Helms and Hyde are prepared to march with flags flying. "Defining when life begins," says Hyde, "is the sort of question Congress is designed to answer, competent to answer, must answer." The wording of his bill is direct: "For the purpose of enforcing the obligation of the States under the 14th Amendment not to deprive persons of life without due process of law, human life shall be deemed to exist from conception." The intent is clear. Explains Hyde: "If the fetus is human life, as of course it is, it ought to be accorded equal dignity with the snail darter and the sperm whale." The effect of the bill, theoretically, would be to allow the states to pass laws defining abortion as murder.
Hyde concedes that Congress is not about to approve a constitutional amendment banning abortion, at least this session. Such action would take a two-thirds vote. But he has high hopes for the bill that he and Helms have sponsoredthat would need only a simple majority to become law. Majority Leader Howard Baker said last week that Senate Republicans had agreed to postpone until 1982 debate on such "emotional" issues as abortion and school prayer. But Helms immediately suggested he might not be willing to go along with such a delay. Some Administration lobbyists are convinced that a form of the Helms-Hyde bill is virtually certain of passage if it reaches the floors of the two houses. The chances of getting it to the floor of the Senate, where Republicans control the Judiciary Committee, are better than for getting it out of the Democratic-controlled House committee.
Advocates of Helms-Hyde have a very persuasive asset: the support of President Reagan. At his Washington press conference last month, Reagan sidestepped a reporter's unrelated question on abortion but then lauded the concept behind the Human Life Statute. Said he: "I think what is necessary in this whole problem, and has been the least talked of, is determining when and what is a human being. Once you have determined this, the Constitution already protects the right of human life." After the conference officially ended, Reagan came out with an afterthought: "Until we make to the best of our ability a determination of when life begins, we've been opting on the basis that 'well, let's consider they're not alive.' I think that everything in our society calls for opting that they might be alive."
Two days after he was inaugurated, Reagan met with a group of right-to-lifers in the Oval Office. Claims a participant, Dr. Jack Willke, president of the National Right to Life Committee: "It was a signal, because we were the first citizens' group in the White House. The one historical parallel is when the civil rights leaders were brought into the White House under Kennedy."
The Helms-Hyde bill is the brainchild of Washington Lawyer Stephen Galebach. A former editor of the Harvard Law Review, Galebach presented a difficult challenge. For almost two centuries, defining individual rights has been the exclusive province of the Supreme Court. Galebach had to find a way to give Congress a say in that process. The answer, he