A law under consideration in South Dakota would expand the definition of “justifiable homicide” to include killings that are intended to prevent harm to a fetus—a move that could make it legal to kill doctors who perform abortions. The Republican-backed legislation, House Bill 1171, has passed out of committee on a nine-to-three party-line vote, and is expected to face a floor vote in the state’s GOP-dominated House of Representatives soon.
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.
Here is the exact language of the bill:
22-16-34. 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.
Section 2. That § 22-16-35 be amended to read as follows:
22-16-35. 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
It doesn’t take a creative reading to understand that this bill would classify murdering abortion providers as “justifiable homicide,” so long as the murderer could show that he was acting in the defense of an “unborn child.”
…I don’t really have any other words.
UPDATE: The legislator behind the bill defends it, saying “It would if abortion was illegal … This code only deals with illegal acts. Abortion is legal in this country. This has nothing to do with abortion.” Since abortion isn’t legally homicide, he says, this law wouldn’t apply.
But that’s just incorrect in reading the plain language of the bill. The part about “justifiable homicide” doesn’t refer to the person being defended; the homicide that is justifiable is the killing of the person who was a threat to the life or safety of another (in the abortion scenario, the abortion provider). Would it hold up in court? Maybe not. But it does establish a potential defense to doctor-killing.
So what exactly is the purpose of this law? State Representative Jensen, who sponsored it, says:
“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-girfriend’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.”
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