South Dakota bill could justify killing abortion doctors

Saturday, June 22nd, 2013 By

Close-up view of South Dakota on a map of the U.S.

South Dakota has some of the toughest abortion laws in the U.S. (Photo Credit: Public Domain/U.S. Air Force)

UPDATE (2/17): The South Dakota legislature has postponed House Bill 1171 indefinitely.

South Dakota is one of the toughest states in the U.S. when it comes to abortion law. No dedicated clinics have operated there since 1994, and Planned Parenthood is only allowed to fly in a single representative when absolutely necessary. Now the South Dakota legislature is considering the even tougher Republican-backed House Bill 1171. If voted into law, the legislation would expand the definition of “justifiable homicide” to include the killing of those who intend to harm a fetus, such as abortion doctors.

Justifiable death to South Dakota abortion doctors

House Bill 1171, which made it out of committee by a 9 to 3 party-line vote, is sponsored by South Dakota state Rep. Phil Jensen, a long-time opponent of abortion rights. His stated intention with the bill is to bring “consistency” to South Dakota’s criminal code, which allows prosecutors to charge people with manslaughter or murder in crimes that cause the death of unborn fetuses.

However, such crimes involve the murder of pregnant women, too, which is rather different than what House Bill 1171 proposes. By changing the definition of justifiable homicide, making it acceptable to kill so long as the act of killing is performed in order to protect a fetus, Jensen is suggesting that even if the woman wanted an abortion, any person who aided her in obtaining abortion services could end up in the cross hairs.

‘This is not an abstract bill’

Vicki Saporta of the National Abortion Federation argued to Mother Jones that Rep. Jensen’s House Bill 1171 is “an invitation to murder abortion providers.” It gives extremists the necessary fetal-defense statute to escape punishment for murder. As Kristin Aschenbrenner of the South Dakota Advocacy Network for Women puts it, the bill has everything to do with granting a fetus personhood.

House Bill 1171 may not be abstract, but it may be legally dubious, says law Prof. Sara Rosenbaum of George Washington University.

“It takes my breath away,” Rosenbaum said via e-mail. “Constitutionally, a state cannot make it a crime to perform a constitutionally lawful act.”

House Bill 1217 would require entrance counseling

In addition to House Bill 1171, House Bill 1217 would require that women considering abortion first undergo counseling at an anti-abortion, Christian-run Crisis Pregnancy Center (CPC). Such CPCs were the subject of a 2006 congressional investigation that found that the information disseminated was often false or misleading.


Mother Jones

South Dakota House Bill 1171

An interesting question posed to anti-abortion demonstrators

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