South Dakota: 'Justifiable Homicide' Bill on Hold

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

Feb. 16, 2011 -- Debate on a bill before the South Dakota state legislature that to some would make the killing of someone in defense of an unborn baby a "justifiable homicide" has been put off until next week.

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

Jensen told ABC News that he has learned that "South Dakota code already defines 'unborn child' as a person," which could potentially render the entire bill moot. "I didn't realize that," he said.

Taken aback by the massive amounts of media attention the story garnered Tuesday, the bill's sponsor, Rep. Phil Jensen, is mulling a change in the bill's wording.

At issue in HB-1171 is an expansion of the state's definition of "justifiable homicide" to possibly include the killing of a fetus.

As it currently reads, the HB-1171 would stipulate: "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 ..."

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley told Jensen that he might want to consider adding the words "that is unlawful and" after the words "to a degree."

Jensen said he is taking the week to decide whether he wants to add the new language to the bill, drop the bill entirely or leave it the way it is.

"I had no idea this would cause such a furor," he said Wednesday, admitting that he was a bit weary from fielding media inquiries since dawn. "The bill has nothing to do with abortion in reality."

But a provocative story on the Mother Jones website with a headline that shouted: "South Dakota Moves To Legalize Killing Abortion Providers"caused a major stir online.

The story drew 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."

Mother Jones' Interpretation '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 killing of an abortion doctor would clearly be against the law.

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

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 Cry Foul

"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."

Still, not everyone is convinced the bill is necessary.

"This is the same defense that Dr. George Tiller's murderer, Scott Roeder, attempted to use, and it fell flat," Dionne Scott at the Center for Reproductive Rights wrote in an e-mail to ABC News.

Jensen: 'Protecting the Unborn'

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