Simone Biles and Henry Hyde

Simone Biles of the United States during the women’s team final at Ariake Gymnastics Centre during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, July 27, 2021. (Dylan Martinez/Reuters)
In their stories, we are missing key insights about hospitality.

Is there anyone who has not voiced an opinion on Simone Biles’s decision to step aside from Olympic competition by now? I’ll add to the deluge by saying: Thanks be to God she is where she is. She was once a child in foster care. And her grandparents decided to adopt her, and that made all the difference. May her presence in the news shine a light on all the children in foster care who aren’t yet success stories, because they do not have the gift of a family to help make all the difference in their lives.

Biles writes about that defining event in her life and her sister’s in her book Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, a Life in Balance: the day her grandmother told her that she and her sister were now adopted by her and their grandfather, and the joy of being able to embrace them as Mom and Dad. She had a permanent home. A forever family to cheer her on and cry with her and give her advice and all the things parents can do for a child, well into adulthood. It’s not too much for a child to ask for. And yet there are at least 437,500 children in foster care — we’re still awaiting an official assessment of how the pandemic has made this crisis worse. It’s a crisis that cries out to us, in our socially distancing times, to reacquaint ourselves with hospitality.

As people were opining on Biles’s decision to recognize her human limits, the House of Representatives was voting to end the Hyde amendment, a line in the sand that for four decades has prevented taxpayer funding of abortion.

The author of the Hyde amendment, the late congressman Henry Hyde, from Illinois, reflected on hospitality as a civic virtue in 1987, in his essay “Welcoming the Stranger”:

The American heritage of hospitality is one reflection of the moral claim that undergirds this experiment in freedom: Jefferson’s claim . . . that “all men are created equal.” In the long view of human history, that claim and the hospitality that flows from it are the exceptions, not the norms. In the long view of history, America is just that: an experiment against the grain.

Hyde emphasized that there is nothing guaranteed about the beauty of the American experiment. We are reminded of that constantly these days: in violence and division, in even the way commentators feel so free to attack Biles, a young woman who made a decision to protect herself and her team. It is good to be aware of our own weaknesses — individually, as part of a team, and as a country.

Hyde continued:

If the boundaries of our public hospitality are one index of our public virtue and our character, then the abortion liberty — this terrible shredding of the fabric of our hospitality, this deliberate fracturing of the community of the commonly protected — must be reversed if America is to endure and prosper.

He argued that abortion is “deeply unworthy of us” and “demeaning.” And he said all this in an era when — thanks to the Hyde amendment, we at least were not increasing the number of abortion by spending government money on them. But is that the plan now? Lawn signs say Black Lives Matter, but young black girls and women go into abortion clinics every day. If Simone Biles’s mother, struggling, had made the decision to abort her, we wouldn’t have the luxury of opining on Biles’s Olympic decision, because she would never have been born. In some zip codes, more black babies are aborted than born.

In her book, Biles reflects on her life’s journey to gymnastics and whether it would have been different if her birth mother had raised her:

When it comes to how things turned out, I’m not sorry. I’m part of a beautiful family that is closer and more loving than any I could’ve ever chosen. As the woman told my grandma — now my mom — in the lunch break room all those years ago, God never makes a mistake.

We do make mistakes, though. And this moment of Simone Biles in the news, as the “people’s house” rejects what has for so long been a recognition that abortion is not a good and should have its limits, should set off alarms that we have abandoned a founding principle. In that same speech, Hyde said: “In a sense, every American is a founder; ever American is a framer. . . . And we need foresight and wisdom and compassion and a reclamation of the tradition of hospitality.”

Do women know that we would help them have an unexpected baby? Do women know that’s a blessing, even when circumstances aren’t planned or ideal? Do mothers who are struggling know that there are people in their lives who will help? Simone Biles had her parents. Is America a country of hospitality or cruelty? Is America a country that helps women and promotes life, or a country that throws both away? The House of Representatives has voted to put our money toward the latter. That’s what abortion is. The most important takeaway from the current news spotlight on Simone Biles is what a tremendous gift her life is, whatever choices she made in Tokyo.

This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.


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