AT THE CONCLUSION of each congressional session, the Humane Society releases its Humane Scorecard, "A snapshot of U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives and their records on major animal welfare policies." In the 109th Congress, as is typical, Democrats scored much higher than Republicans on an array of legislation, ranging from criminalizing the slaughter of horses for human consumption, to the sale of "downed" livestock, to making cockfighting a felony, to providing disaster relief for pets.
In fact, of the 104 members of Congress who received a perfect score from the Humane Society, 83, or 80 percent, are Democrats. In total, congressional Democrats' average score was 70 percent, while Republicans averaged 38 percent.
Of course, Democrats have always been at the forefront of the battle to protect animals. From championing the Humane Slaughter Act of 1902 and the 1966 Animal Welfare Act, to leading the way in support of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the Democratic party has always stood firmly on the side of the ethical and compassionate treatment of animals.
But, as the Humane Scorecard highlights Democrats' dedication to the protection of the weak and defenseless in the animal kingdom, it also uncovers a disturbing double standard when it comes to the party's treatment of the most vulnerable and voiceless human beings: the unborn.
On December 6th, the House of Representatives held its first-ever vote on the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act (UCPAA), legislation that would have required abortion facilities to inform women considering abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy that it will likely cause her unborn child intense pain. The bill would have also required abortionists to offer mothers a chance to give their babies anesthesia before the abortion.
Sadly, while the UCPAA received majority support in the House, it failed to garner the two-thirds support necessary to pass under special parliamentary procedures employed during the last week of the legislative session. In all, 250 members voted in favor of providing women more information about their developing children; 162 members voted against it.
Even a cursory analysis of the voting patterns reveals a deep partisan divide. While 210 of 219 Republicans (96 percent) voted for the UCPAA, just 40 of 192 Democrats (21 percent) did likewise. These statistics stand in stark contrast to the Democrats' 70 percent average score on legislation concerning the treatment of animals.
Even worse, of the 6 Democratic congressmen recently recognized by the Humane Society as "The Best of the Best" (meaning they received a perfect voting score and sponsored animal protection legislation), not one voted for the UCPAA. Conversely, four out of the five Republican Representatives at the top of the Humane Society's list also voted for the UCPAA, including the legislation's primary sponsor, New Jersey Representative Chris Smith.
Some Democratic members said that they voted against the UCPAA because there is still insufficient evidence that unborn children feel pain. But there's been a developing consensus that babies feel pain in utero since the 1940s. In a recent congressional hearing, Dr. Robert White, director of the Division of Neurosurgery and Brain Research Laboratory at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, testified before the House Constitution Subcommittee that a human fetus at 20-weeks gestation "is fully capable of experiencing pain." How bad is the pain? Dr. Paul Ranalli of the University of Toronto has testified that at 20- to 30-week gestation, children in the womb may feel even more intense pain than at any other time before or after birth, because there are more pain receptors per square inch than at any other time and only a very thin layer of skin for protection.
Let's be clear: the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act is not an anti-abortion bill. It does not in any way restrict women from obtaining abortions. In fact, some pro-life groups have opposed the legislation on the grounds that its wording strongly suggests that anesthetized abortions are better than other abortions, and because the bill still offers women the "option" to abort.
Leaving aside the prudential arguments against the legislation, the notion that pregnant women ought to be informed that their child can feel intense pain during an abortion is not lost on the American people. A spring 2005 Zogby poll showed three in four Americans think women should be told about pain felt by their child in utero. Even more, a 2003 Gallup survey found that while 71 percent of respondents believe animals are entitled to some protections from harm and exploitation, just 25 percent think that animals deserve the same rights as people.
Even the primary players in the abortion lobby, the National Abortion Rights Action League and Planned Parenthood, stayed out of the UCPAA fight. NARAL announced it would not oppose the legislation because, "women deserve access to all the information relevant to their reproductive health decisions." While experts maintain that perhaps only 1 percent of abortions would be affected by this law (as the vast majority of abortions take place before 20 weeks gestation), with over a million yearly abortions in America, that is over 10,000 unborn children (and their mothers) who would be affected in a very profound way.
Ultrasound technology has been an invaluable tool in helping reveal the unborn child as a living, breathing, feeling human being--and at earlier stages than ever before. Although it failed to become law, the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act was similarly valuable in revealing the sham of a political party that places the suffering of animals ahead of that of human beings.
Daniel Allott is a policy analyst and writer for American Values, a Washington D.C. area public policy organization.