Philadelphia Eagle Michael Vick must be wondering what he did wrong. Well, let me rephrase that, since l’m sure the football star knows exactly what he did wrong. In 2007, it came to light that Vick had been staging dog fights and then drowning, electrocuting or beating the losing pooches to death. This was not a mere pastime for Vick. He created a business called “Bad Newz Kennels” that made money off the torture and death of its animals. Once these facts were known, society made the impropriety of his conduct clear. So, what I should have said, is that Vick must be wondering why these revelations cost him his job and his freedom, when Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead has faced little in the way of criticism.
Recently, Winstead has embarked on a stand-up comedy tour in support of an organization that brutally kills unwanted dogs. Typically, smaller animals are first sliced with a bladed instrument and are then suctioned piece-by-piece through a tube. In the case of larger dogs, the canines are dismembered with a pair of forceps, which involves grabbing and twisting the animal’s limbs until they come off.
Given that both Vick’s organization and Winstead’s have brought dogs to a gruesome end, why would the two individuals be treated so differently? Is it because Vick is an athlete and Winstead a comic? Well, there is another difference I should probably mention: the group that Winstead supports, Planned Parenthood, doesn’t really kill unwanted dogs. It kills unwanted children, something Planned Parenthood refers to on its website as ensuring “fetal demise.” If the unwanted child was conceived within the past sixteen weeks, a technique known as vacuum aspiration is typically used, and it’s analogous to the slicing and sucking described above. After the sixteen week mark, dilation and evacuation abortions are the norm. This is the procedure in which the fetus is dismembered with a pair of forceps. Interestingly, none of these details are explicitly laid out on Planned Parenthood’s website. No mention is made of the diminutive hands or feet that must be removed–“tissue” is their noun of choice.
Perhaps herein lies the crucial difference between the victims of Planned Parenthood and those of Bad Newz Kennels: whereas we’ve all seen dogs and can easily imagine what their mistreatment would look like, the technical aspects of abortion have remained relatively obscure. Obscure also is the nature of the fetus, partly due to the Supreme Court and its holdings.
The 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution reads (in part), ‘nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.’ Therefore, if the fetus is considered to be a person, then he or she is entitled to the same legal protections as anyone else. Justice Blackmun admitted as much when writing the majority opinion of Roe v. Wade: “…the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment.”
Given the recent advances in medical technology, it has become more and more apparent that the fetus has traits consistent with those that one would expect to see in a person. A fetal heat beat is now detectable six weeks after conception and brain waves are also evident in the first trimester. None of this has mattered however; in Roe, the majority decided that a fetus is not a person, and this assessment has never been repudiated. As a result, a pre-born child occupies the bizarre role of human non-person: he or she has clear attributes of humanity, but none of the legal protections that come with it.
Incremental efforts are being made to change this situation, particularly at the state level. States like Nebraska, Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Missouri, and others have passed or are considering legislation that addresses the issue of fetal pain. Some, like Nebraska, have implemented a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. Others, like Minnesota, require that a woman be made aware of the potential for her child to suffer during an abortion. These efforts have come in the wake of new research on fetal pain, such as that carried out by Dr. Kanwaljeet Anand, a professor at the University of Tennessee.
While the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has maintained that fetuses do not experience suffering, Dr. Anand contends that the evidence does not support this position–at least after 20 weeks of gestation. His sentiments are echoed by Dr. Jean Wright, an anesthesiologist who has testified before Congress. According to her, “An unborn fetus after 20 weeks of gestation has all the prerequisite anatomy, physiology, hormones, neurotransmitters, and electrical current to close the loop and create the conditions needed to perceive pain.” Neurologist Dr. Thomas Sullivan goes even farther, claiming that a fetus may experience pain at just 13 weeks. Although a long way from securing the full rights of personhood for the fetus, laws that recognize some of abortion’s cruelty are a step in the right direction. Indeed, at this stage, merely granting pre-born children the same protection we extend to terriers would be a major improvement.
Here is one more difference that sets Planned Parenthood apart from Bad Newz Kennels. Unlike Michael Vick’s dog-fighting ring, Planned Parenthood helps women survive difficult, harrowing situations, like the one that Winstead herself once faced. When confronted with an unplanned pregnancy, Winstead had the option of carrying her baby and then giving him or her up for adoption. As she explains in her stand-up routine, this was not a realistic choice, since she was “popular” and “had pom-poms.” So, to avoid the catastrophic possibility of missing out on the cheer-leading season, Lizz Winstead elected instead to have Planned Parenthood dispose of her 2-month old fetus.
As we ponder th–Huh? Oh no, I’m not kidding–she actually says all of this in her comedy act. Seriously, check out the video: the abortion was necessary to keep her ‘popular’ and using ‘pom-poms.” This, apparently, is why Planned Parenthood’s activities must remain not only legal, but federally subsidized to the tune of over three hundred million dollars a year. Had Michael Vick only acted with such heroism, his fate would have no doubt been different.