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South Dakota legislation could make it legal to kill abortion providers

An article in Mother Jones examines South Dakota’s House Bill 1171, which seeks to redefine the limits of what the law terms “justifiable homicide” (generally invoked in cases of self-defense, though it also applies to war, capital punishment and a few other unique circumstances). Specifically, the bill is aimed at ruling as justifiable any homicide committed to prevent harm to a fetus.

Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard writes:

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.

In an interview with the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, Rep. Jensen insists that the law is only meant to apply to situations like the improbable and oddly specific one he provides.

“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.”

He also tells Sargent, “This code only deals with illegal acts. Abortion is legal in this country. This has nothing to do with abortion.” This is the same line Jensen gave to Mother Jones when that publication contacted him for comment. Jensen’s comments point to the possibly dwindling legal status of abortion in South Dakota, where there has not been a full-time abortion provider in the state since 1994 — Planned Parenthood flies in a doctor each week to see patients in Sioux Falls, reports Mother Jones — and where, by law, any doctor performing an abortion must recite the following to a patient: “The abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.”

Jensen would not directly respond to the charge that the proposed law could encourage people to murder abortion providers.

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