South Dakota: A 'Justifiable Homicide' Bill. Does It Include Abortion Doctors?

A lawmaker proposes a bill that appears to OK killing in defense of the unborn.

February 15, 2011, 2:04 PM

Feb. 15, 2011 -- A provocative story on the Mother Jones website caused a stir online today with a headline that shouted: "South Dakota Moves To Legalize Killing Abortion Providers."

A bill proposed by conservative Rep. Phil Jensen would expand the state's definition of "justifiable homicide" to a killing committed in the defense of an unborn child.

The story draws the conclusion that "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."

Reached by ABC News, Jensen called this interpretation of his bill, which passed out of committee on a nine-to-three party-line vote, "absurd."

"This has nothing to do with abortion. They didn't understand the argument," he said. "It is a self-defense bill; that's purely and simply what it is."

Jensen said that because abortion is legal, the murder of an abortion doctor would plainly be against the law.

"What I am trying to do is to bring some consistency to South Dakota code," he said.

But critics of the bill say that, if it passes, the law could intimidate or otherwise deter people from seeking -- or performing -- safe, legal abortions.

South Dakota already allows people who commit crimes that result in the death of unborn fetuses to be charged with manslaughter. Jensen's bill -- HB-1171 -- would incorporate similar language to the definition of "justifiable homicide"

Jensen's bill would make a homicide 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.

Abortion-rights groups are nonetheless concerned. If abortion were to become illegal in South Dakota, would the murder of a doctor performing an abortion suddenly become a justifiable homicide?

"That's a stretch is all I can say," Jensen told ABC News. "What it does is protect the mother who is trying to protect her unborn child. This covers cases where the mother's life isn't threatened but the unborn baby's is."

Abortion Rights Groups Cry Foul

Still, not everyone is convinced that it's necessary.

"Our take is that Mother Jones' interpretation of the bill is spot on," Dionne Scott of the Center for Reproductive Rights wrote in an e-mail to ABC News. "This is the same defense that Dr. George Tiller's murderer, Scott Roeder, attempted to use, and it fell flat.

"The fact that this legislator would propose such a measure in a climate in which violence is being perpetrated against abortion providers and others (i.e. the folks in Arizona) is utterly shocking," Scott wrote.

For his part, Jensen says he is trying to protect the unborn, quite the opposite of inciting anyone.

Still, the debate will have to play out later, when the bill will likely face a floor vote in South Dakota's GOP-dominated House of Representatives.

In the meantime, Jensen will be introducing an anti-Sharia law bill on Wednesday.

The joint resolution will seek to allow South Dakotans to vote to amend the state Constitution to prohibit "the application of international law, the law of foreign nations, and certain foreign religious or moral codes in the state courts of South Dakota."

Since Oklahoma voters approved a resolution banning Sharia law from being considered in the state in November, similar measures have been introduced or passed in at least 13 other states. A federal judge barred Oklahoma from implenting the measure shortly after it was approved by 70 percent of the state's voters.

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