Given the special relationship we have with our pets and the tenderness we feel toward animals that rely on us for protection and sustenance, it’s no wonder that so many of us feel disgust and contempt when we read about people who show blatant disregard for animals.
A Denver man accused of twisting the head off a tame duck in the lobby of a St. Paul, Minn., hotel is the most recent grotesque example. That deadly, drunken trantrum seems mild, however, compared to the pattern of habitual cruelty exhibited by the likes of former football star Michael Vick who train dogs to rip each other apart for profit and amusement then kill them by horrific means when they are no longer useful.
We express our intolerance for such actions — yes, intolerance can be a good thing — through our laws.
If convicted of felony animal cruelty, Clark could spend two years in prison and be fined up to $5,000. Vick originally faced charges carrying up to six years in prison and $350,000 in fines.
Colorado’s laws against animal cruelty are also severe. Aggravated cruelty to animals constitutes a felony punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a $100,000 fine. A subsequent charge can increase the prison sentence to as much as three years.
It’s sensible and humane that Coloradans want to send a clear message that torturing, mutilating or gratuitously killing animals will not be tolerated.
That’s why a certain inconsistency in the hierarchy of Colorado laws has often bothered me. In most cases, Colorado law places a higher value on human lives than on animals as evidenced by more severe penalties for crimes against humans.
That seems entirely rational. However, the irrational inconsistency is that our laws value cats and dogs but not unborn humans.
In Colorado, unborn human life can be legally terminated — brutally and excruciatingly terminated — simply with the consent of the mother and the willingness of an abortionist.
Hardly anyone would suggest that an unborn child is mere "property," yet that child has less legal protection than dogs and cats — which, legally speaking, are indeed property, though certainly not in the same sense as, say, a table and chairs.
No one with a modicum of compassion would suggest that it’s acceptable for an animal to be mutilated simply because its owner consents. Yet that’s how little respect Colorado law shows for unborn children. So long as the mother consents, an unborn child can be killed at any time up until moments before birth for any reason or no reason.
An unborn child isn’t even entitled to simple due process — i.e., "a day in court" — if, for example, a grandparent wants to intervene to save his or her life. Family, courts or child protection agencies have no standing to require cause or justification before these young, defenseless lives are destroyed. That’s ironic because unborn children, even more so than our treasured pets, are entirely dependent on us for nourishment and protection and completely vulnerable to the whims of others.
Whether ardently pro-life, adamantly pro-choice or understandably conflicted, virtually everyone would agree that if forced to choose between saving your unborn child or saving your pet, the unborn child would be our first priority.
Why, then, does that unborn child forfeit all legal protection simply because one person decides the child is unwanted?
Perhaps its because we learn enough about animal abuse to understand that it’s barbaric, but we won’t begin to confront — not even in clinical terms — the awful reality of abortion and the pain it inflicts before death. Perhaps its because abortion is only rarely a response to rape or incest and all too often an expedient means to erase sexual irresponsibility.
Whatever the reason, while our concern for children and pets is right and decent, our disregard for the unborn is a shameful injustice.