Tuesday, February 15, 2011

South Dakota Law Could Justify Murder of Abortion Providers

South Dakota State Rep. Phil Jensen (R) introduced a bill on Monday which critics worry could be used, in some circumstances, to justify the murder of doctors, nurses, or volunteers who assist in performing abortions. The bill, known as HB 1171, defines the act of killing a person in defense of an unborn child as "justifiable homicide," which some reproductive rights advocates worry could open the door to legal immunity for individuals who perform acts of violence on individuals or institutions that provide abortion services.

Jensen denied that the bill would offer legal protection to individuals who kill abortion doctors, claiming "This code only deals with illegal acts, which doesn't include abortion." However, according to a TPM interview with law professor Robert Weisberg, Jensen's defense of the bill as only applying to illegal activities is either "disingenuous or backpedaling," as Weisberg claims that the distinction between legal and illegal activities is simply not in the statue as it currently reads. If adopted, HB 1171 would amend existing South Dakota law to include the following language (with proposed additions in bold):
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.

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 accomplished.
National advocacy groups for reproductive rights have already begun calling on South Dakota lawmakers to add language to the bill which explicitly protects abortion providers. In a statement released today, Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, insisted that the lawmakers in South Dakota have a "moral obligation to protect reproductive-health care professionals who are providing legal medical services to women." With the level of violence against abortion providers escalating dramatically in the last two decades, South Dakota lawmakers must avoid passing any legislation that offers even the slightest possibility of legal protection for individuals who would exert their own lethal moral vigilantism against abortion service providers. And given the religious justifications for many past attacks on abortion service providers, religious communities bear a special responsibility in condemning HB 1171 and the sort of violence it could be used to sanction. Although reproductive rights remain a deeply divisive subject in many faith communities, we should all be able to rally behind the condemnation of legalizing premeditated murder.

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