Politics & Policy

Edwards Falls Deaf…

...to the cries of the most vulnerable.

In 1985, John Edwards “stood before a jury and channeled the words of an unborn baby girl,” according to the New York Times.

#ad#Edwards–the U.S. senator and vice-presidential candidate, not to be confused with popular television “psychic” John Edward–was representing parents in a successful lawsuit against an obstetrician who, they claimed, had failed to properly heed indications on a fetal heartbeat monitor that an unborn baby was in trouble, resulting in a serious brain injury.

In his closing argument to the jury, Edwards conveyed what the unborn child, Jennifer Campbell, purportedly had been feeling hour-by-hour as her distress grew.

“She speaks to you through me,” Edwards told the jury. “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.”

Edwards won the lawsuit. Thirteen years later, he was elected to the U.S. Senate from North Carolina. Judging from his subsequent voting record, it seems that somewhere along the line, John Edwards lost his ability to hear the voices of unborn victims.

Consider first the question of partial-birth abortion. Nurse Brenda Pratt Shafer was “pro-choice” when her agency assigned her to work at an Ohio abortion clinic in 1993. What she saw shocked her to the core.

“I stood at the doctor’s side and watched him perform a partial-birth abortion on a woman who was six months pregnant,” Shafer testified in 1995. “The baby’s heartbeat was clearly visible on the ultrasound screen. The doctor delivered the baby’s body and arms, everything but his little head. The baby’s body was moving. His little fingers were clasping together. He was kicking his feet. The doctor took a pair of scissors and inserted them into the back of the baby’s head, and the baby’s arms jerked out in a flinch, a startle reaction, like a baby does when he thinks that he might fall. Then the doctor opened the scissors up. Then he stuck the high-powered suction tube into the hole and sucked the baby’s brains out. Now the baby was completely limp.”

The nurse concluded, “I never went back to the clinic. But I am still haunted by the face of that little boy. It was the most perfect, angelic face I have ever seen.”

Does John Edwards hear the voice of that baby, or thousands of others like him? Apparently not, since the first chance Edwards got to vote on the bill to ban partial-birth abortions in 1999, he voted against it.

The ban passed the Senate in 1999, but it died because of the opposition of President Bill Clinton, who had already vetoed the ban twice before. The ban died yet again in 2002 at the hands of Senator Tom Daschle (D., S.D.), who as Senate Majority Leader at the time, was able to prevent a vote on it.

In 2003, the Senate again passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, this time sending it to a President who was eager to sign it–George W. Bush. John Edwards was away campaigning for president, so he missed the final vote on the bill. But when President Bush signed the bill on November 5, 2003, Edwards issued a press release saying that he was “saddened by the president’s action,” which he suggested should offend “every woman in America.”

So, John Edwards as a senator turned a deaf ear to the psychic cries of premature infants whose skulls are punctured during partial-birth abortions. But might he still perceive the voices of those many unborn children who are killed in violent crimes–babies such as Landon Lyons?

On January 7, 2004, unborn Landon, 21 weeks, had his picture taken for the first time. It was an ultrasound video taken at a physician’s office in Georgetown, Kentucky. Landon’s mother, 18-year-old Ashley Lyons, took the videotape to the home of her mother, Carol Lyons.

Carol Lyons later related, “She [Ashley] said, ‘Mom, come watch the ultrasound movie [on the family TV].’ I saw the baby’s heartbeat. I saw all of his little parts–all of his little legs, fingers, toes…. She pointed out every part of that baby to me. And the whole time the baby’s heart was just beating.”

A few hours later, Ashley’s father and brother found Ashley shot to death in her car in a park. Landon also died in the murder.

In such a crime, should the law recognize one victim, or two? Carol Lyons had no doubt about the answer.

“Nobody can tell me that there were not two victims,” she said. “I placed Landon in his mother’s arms, wrapped in a baby blanket that I had sewn for him, just before I kissed my daughter goodbye for the last time and closed the casket.”

On March 25, 2004, the U.S. Senate, for the first time ever, debated that same question: One victim, or two?

That question was at the center of the debate over the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, also known as “Laci and Conner’s Law”–a bill to recognize unborn children as legal victims when they are injured or killed during the commission of federal crimes.

During the debate, photos of mothers and babies who had died or been injured in two-victim crimes were displayed on the floor of the Senate, including the ultrasound image of Landon Lyons. But if Senator Edwards was able to hear the voices of Landon or the other unborn victims, he did not mention it. Edwards voted for a “substitute” bill (the Feinstein Substitute) that would have written into federal law the legal doctrine that such crimes have only a single victim–the pregnant woman.

Under the Feinstein Substitute, if a mother survived a federal crime, but lost her unborn baby, federal authorities would tell her something like, “We’re sorry you were assaulted–but federal law says that nobody really died.”

Sharon Rocha, whose daughter Laci Peterson and unborn grandson Conner Peterson died in a much-publicized crime in California in 2002, said in a letter to senators, “I hope that every legislator will clearly understand that adoption of such a single-victim amendment would be a painful blow to those, like me, who are left alive after a two-victim crime, because Congress would be saying that Conner and other innocent unborn victims like him are not really victims–indeed, that they never really existed at all. But our grandson did live. He had a name, he was loved, and his life was violently taken from him before he ever saw the sun…. I don’t understand how any legislator can vote to force prosecutors to tell such a grieving mother that she didn’t really lose a baby–when she knows to the depths of her soul that she did.”

Fortunately, the Feinstein Substitute failed by a single vote, 49-50. Edwards then voted against passage of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act–but it passed, 61-38, and President Bush signed it into law on April 1.

Sen. John Kerry also voted for the Feinstein single-victim substitute and against Laci and Conner’s Law.

“I am concerned that the Unborn Victims of Violence Act provides a fetus victim status equal to that of the pregnant mother,” Edwards explained in one letter. He suggested that this would “undermine a woman’s right to abortion,” although abortion was explicitly excluded from the scope of the bill.

It seems, then, that nowadays there are voices that ring much louder in Senator Edwards’s mind that those of unborn victims. After all, unborn children cannot vote, or register others to vote, or distribute brochures, or make contributions, or do any of the other things that will determine whether John Kerry and John Edwards are elevated to the highest offices in the land.

Yet, in a sense the voices of unborn victims will indeed be heard during the months just ahead. They will speak through us, pro-life citizens across the nation, as we address the jury of the American electorate. May the jury’s verdict be a just one.

Douglas Johnson is legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee.His e-mail address is legfederal@aol.com.

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