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South Dakota Bill Could Legalize Killing Of Abortion Providers In Some Cases

Tracy Bloom |
February 15, 2011 | 4:26 p.m. PST

Executive Producer

South Dakota House of Representatives (creative commons)
South Dakota House of Representatives (creative commons)
A controversial bill under consideration in South Dakota could potentially make it legal to kill abortion providers by changing the definition of justifiable homicide. The bill, HB 1171, recently passed out of a committee by a 9-3 vote.

The bill states:

Homicide is justifiable if committed by any person while resisting any attempt to murder such person, or to harm the unborn child of such person in a manner and to a degree likely to result in the death of the unborn child, or to commit any felony upon him or her, or upon or in any dwelling house in which such person is.

Homicide is justifiable if committed by any person in the lawful defense of such person, or of his or her husband, wife, parent, child, master, mistress, or servant, or the unborn child of any such enumerated person, if there is reasonable ground to apprehend a design to commit a felony, or to do some great personal injury, and imminent danger of such design being

Mother Jones reported: "The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Phil Jensen, a committed foe of abortion rights, alters the state's legal definition of justifiable homicide by adding language stating that a homicide is permissible if committed by a person "while resisting an attempt to harm" that person's unborn child or the unborn child of that person's spouse, partner, parent, or child. If the bill passes, it could in theory allow a woman's father, mother, son, daughter, or husband to kill anyone who tried to provide that woman an abortion—even if she wanted one."

Jensen, a pro-life Republican who introduced the legislation late last month, denied that the bill would open the door to making it legal to murder doctors who perfom abortions. "This code only deals with illegal acts, which doesn't include abortion," Jensen told Talking Points Memo.

The Washington Post reported: "Jensen insisted that the bill's primary goal is to bring 'consistency' to South Dakota criminal code, which already allows people who commit crimes that result in the death of fetuses to be charged with manslaughter. The new measure expands the state's definition of 'justifiable homicide' by adding a clause applying it to someone who is 'resisting any attempt' to murder of an unborn child or to harm an unborn child in a way likely to result in its death."

"There is a time and a place where you can defend yourself and it may result in the death of someone who's attacking you," he said. 

Jensen used the following example to demonstrate how the law would apply: "Say an ex-boyfriend who happens to be father of a baby doesn't want to pay child support for the next 18 years, and he beats on his ex-girlfriend's abdomen in trying to abort her baby. If she did kill him, it would be justified. She is resisting an effort to murder her unborn child."

Some are concerned that the legislation, if not amended, could potentially trigger attacks on abortion providers.

"I don't believe the intent is malicious," said Alicia Sedor, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota. "But the potential legal implications of the bill are what make it dangerous. If it passes without an amendment exempting attacks on providers, it could incite violence from individuals who believe their actions will be found justifiable in court."

A vote on the measure in the state's Republican-controlled House of Representatives is expected to take place on Wednesday.



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