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S. Dakota Republicans Want to Legalize Killing Abortion Providers

The right wing war against women’s rights gets uglier
Politics • Views: 32,305

It was bad enough when they tried to redefine rape, and worse when they tried to let pregnant women die rather than have abortions, but now the Republican Party in South Dakota is actually trying to pass a law that would legalize killing abortion providers.

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.

Jensen did not return calls to his home or his office requesting comment on the bill, which is cosponsored by 22 other state representatives and four state senators.

“The bill in South Dakota is an invitation to murder abortion providers,” says Vicki Saporta, the president of the National Abortion Federation, the professional association of abortion providers. Since 1993, eight doctors have been assassinated at the hands of anti-abortion extremists, and another 17 have been the victims of murder attempts. Some of the perpetrators of those crimes have tried to use the justifiable homicide defense at their trials. “This is not an abstract bill,” Saporta says. The measure could have major implications if a “misguided extremist invokes this ‘self-defense’ statute to justify the murder of a doctor, nurse or volunteer,” the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families warned in a message to supporters last week.

UPDATE at 2/15/11 9:46:03 am

Greg Sargent got in touch with the bill’s sponsor, State Representative Phil Jensen, and Jensen insisted that the bill would not legalize killing abortion doctors.

I just had a spirited conversation with the bill’s chief sponsor, State Representative Phil Jensen, and he defended the bill, arguing that it would not legalize the killing of abortion doctors.

“It would if abortion was illegal,” he told me. “This code only deals with illegal acts. Abortion is legal in this country. This has nothing to do with abortion.” In other words, since abortion is not “homicide,” the law could not apply.

Jensen’s defense of the bill, however, is unlikely to make abortion rights advocates any happier, since he seemed to dismiss as irrelevant the possibility that the measure could inflame anti-abortion fanatics to violence. …

When I asked Jensen what the purpose of the law was, if its target isn’t abortion providers, he provided the following example:

“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.”

Pushed on whether the new measure could inflame the unhinged to kill abortion doctors, as some critics allege, Jensen scoffed. “You can fantasize all you want, but this is pretty clear cut,” he said. “Never say never, but if some loony did what your suggesting, then this law wouldn’t apply to them. It wouldn’t be justifiable homicide.”

Asked whether he was conceding that the law could conceivably encourage such behavior, Jensen pushed back: “You could cross the street and get hit by a car. Could happen, couldn’t it?”

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