John Edwards, baby defender

Terry Jeffrey
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Posted: Aug 18, 2004 12:00 AM

Who has allowed more harm to come to more babies during childbirth: John Edwards or the doctors he sued?

 Compare the sequential careers of Edwards the Lawyer and Edwards the Politician, and a telling irony emerges. As a lawyer, Edwards made a fortune defending the interests of babies whom he argued were injured by the doctors attending their deliveries. As a politician, he ascended to the Democratic vice presidential nomination while advocating the Democratic line of abortion on demand.

 Along the way, Edwards voted against the Partial Birth Abortion Ban on Oct. 21, 1999, helping to ensure it could not be sent to then-President Bill Clinton with a veto-proof majority. When the ban was finally enacted in 2003 (it is now being tested in federal courts), Edwards still opposed it, but missed the Senate vote.

 Bottom line: Edwards the Lawyer sued doctors for harming babies during childbirth. Edwards the Politician voted to let doctors kill babies during childbirth.

 As The Washington Times reported this week, "Linking complications during childbirth to cerebral palsy became a specialty for Mr. Edwards.? By his own account, Edwards the Lawyer was a crusader, defending little people against bad doctors.

 "Before I was elected to the United States Senate, I spent nearly two decades as a lawyer standing up for people who needed a voice,? Edwards wrote last December in Newsweek. "I was more than just their lawyer,? he said. "I cared about them. Their cause was my cause.?

 As an example, Edwards cited the heart-wrenching case of Jennifer Campbell. "A charming, determined 5-year-old, she couldn't walk or feed herself, and still needed a playpen,? wrote Edwards. "Because of a doctor's terrible mistake, she was born with permanent brain damage. I met her loving, determined parents, who were hoping for a way to help pay for her costly care, and to make sure other families wouldn't suffer as they had. Back then, in 1985, I was a young North Carolina trial lawyer starting to build a name as someone willing to take cases others rejected as longshots. This was exactly that. The insurance companies were skilled at making cases like this 'go away.' The Campbells had no money, and the trial would be long, complicated and expensive. If we lost, neither the Campbells nor I would receive a dime. But there was no question that these were risks worth taking for Jennifer.?

 This is a powerful image: A selfless lawyer who without any guarantee of personal gain dedicated his time to pursing justice on behalf a little girl who had been wronged in the very hour of her birth.

 Referring to this case, The New York Times described how "Edwards stood before a jury and channeled the words of an unborn baby girl.?

 Citing the record of a fetal heartbeat monitor as evidence, Edwards told the jury: "She said at 3, ?I'm fine.' She said at 4, ?I'm having a little trouble, but I'm doing OK' Five, she said, ?I'm having problems.' At 5:30, she said, ?I need out.'?

 "She speaks to you through me,? Edwards said. "And I have to tell you right now -- I didn't plan to talk about this -- right now I feel her. I feel her presence. She's inside me, and she's talking to you.?

 According to The New York Times, "The jury came back with a $6.5 million verdict in the cerebral palsy case, and Mr. Edwards established his reputation as the state's most feared plaintiff's lawyer.?

 There's no need to second-guess a jury's 19-year-old verdict in favor of little girl touched by tragedy. But looking back across Edwards' subsequent political career, his closing argument in the Jennifer Campbell case now reads as a sharp indictment of his own claim to be a defender of the weak against the powerful.

 Were they able to secure the services of a lawyer like Edwards, what message might all the babies killed in partial-birth abortions since 1999 -- when Edwards voted against the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban -- send to the man who now seeks to be vice president of the United States?

 "Senator, the doctor is trying to kill me!?

 That is something Edwards could not say in any malpractice suit he brought against any doctor trying to deliver a baby. Whatever else Edwards might have said about those physicians, they wanted the babies in their care to live.

 What is the difference between the babies Edwards the Lawyer defended and the babies Edwards the Politician would not defend when he voted to keep partial-birth abortion legal? Just this: Edwards' interest.

 At least he is consistent about one thing.