South Dakota Bill Could Legitimize Murder of Abortion Providers

Published on
by
RH Reality Check

South Dakota Bill Could Legitimize Murder of Abortion Providers

If you had any doubt that we are moving toward a hate-filled, vigilante society, you now have an unequivocal answer.  Scott Roeder claimed justifiable homicide in the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in his church vestibule. Now, just two days after a female member of the Minuteman militia was convicted of murdering two innocent people--including a 9-year-old girl--while attempting to murder another, South Dakota legislators have introduced legislation that could de-criminalize the shooting of doctors, nurses, patients and volunteers at clinics providing abortion care.

Yup. You read that right. Elected officials--all of whom supposedly swore to uphold the law--are now encouraging people to literally take the law--as they understand it--into their own gun-owning hands.

The South Dakota bill, House Bill 1171 (the language of which is below), is an outgrowth of legislation that criminalizes harm to fetuses, a back-door route used by anti-choice forces for the past decade to criminalize abortion by conferring the rights of personhood on a fetus.

HB 1171 is one of three new bills being considered by the South Dakota legislature which seems, in "representing the people," to have completely forgotten that those same South Dakotans have repeatedly rejected such measures at the ballot box. The other two gems? House Judiciary Committee HB1217 would institute forcible “counseling” at anti-choice clinics (as Tiffany Campbell reported earlier) and HB 1218, would criminalize all surrogacy in South Dakota. 

"While each of these bills is absurd in their own right," according to South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, "they have one thing in common."

They are all attempts to allow government intrusion in to personal decisions best made by a woman, her family and doctor. Yet, a few ideologues continue to press their personal agenda and interfere with private decisions.  This must stop.

Fetal homicide statutes have been on some state law books since the early seventies, according to Stateline.org, but many did not stipulate when a fetus became a person and potential crime victim, leaving courts to decide whether the death of an early-term fetus constituted a separate crime in maternal murder cases.  But states more recently began using "cookie-cutter language in fetal homicide laws, assigning legal rights to fetuses at any gestational age,” Sondra Goldschein, state strategies director for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project, told Stateline.org in 2006. 

Abortion rights advocates have long argued that these laws are part of a legal strategy to establish that life begins at conception. “It’s the elevation of the status of the fetus that is going to erode the right to access abortion,” Goldschein said. Anti-abortion groups promote the laws, saying fetuses should be recognized as living human beings.

South Dakota has three such laws.  One defines vehicular homicide, which includes the death of an unborn child, if for example, someone driving under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances "causes the death of another person, including an unborn child" (2006 HB 1163).  A second law defines fetal homicide as occurring when a person who knew, or reasonably should have known, "that a woman bearing an unborn child was pregnant and caused the death of the unborn child without lawful justification."  And a third defines homicide as "murder in the first degree to include the death of a person or any other human being, including an unborn child."

None of these laws distinguishes between wanted and unwanted or untenable pregnancies and all of them confer rights on fetuses apart from their mothers, thereby undermining the core foundation of a woman's right to choose whether and when to continue a pregnancy to term and to bear and raise a child.

HB 1171 would expand the definition of "justifiable homicide" to killings that are intended to prevent harm to a fetus, which many feel would make it legal to kill doctors who perform abortions. It states:

Section 1. That § 22-16-34 be amended to read as follows:
    22-16-34. 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.
    Section 2. That § 22-16-35 be amended to read as follows:
    22-16-35. 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.

In other words, it's "justifiable homicide" if you feel justified in killing a doctor providing perfectly legal abortion care to a woman who has chosen to exercise her legal right not to carry a pregnancy to term, or who is physically unable to do so.  The bill passed out of committee on a nine-to-three party-line vote, and is expected to come up for a full vote on the floor of the state's House of Representatives soon. It is cosponsored by 22 state representatives and four state senators. Unbelievable.

The original version of the bill did not include the language regarding the "unborn child," according to state analysts, and was framed as a "simple clarification" of South Dakota's justifiable homicide law. According to Kelsey of DakotaWomen.com, the bill:

[W]as recently amended from a sort of weird bill that I had hoped would result in gangs of armed pregnant women roughing up their homicidal baby daddies (remember, murder is the number one cause of death in pregnant women) to a piece of legislation that might inspire a horror movie called They Shoot Nurses, Don’t They?

The bill was "hoghoused" --a term used in South Dakota for heavily amending legislation in committee, according to Kate Shepphard at Mother Jones—in a little-noticed hearing."

Former DW contributor Laura elaborates:

House Judicial Committee testimony on the hoghouse amendment to SD HB 1171 (from those who knew the hoghouse was coming, the rest of us were caught pondering an entirely new bill and 10 seconds to respond = no hearing) makes clear that just allowing a pregnant mother to use protective deadly force, as read the original bill, isn’t acceptable to all the usual “prolife” proponents. They seek to codify murder of abortion providers (pharmacists? anyone driving you to the clinic?) by anyone the state defines as having an interest in that fetus. Don’t be suckered by rhetoric portending this just makes all the codes consistent. The Consistent Life Ethic crowd now values summary execution. Perhaps this isn’t so surprising in that they also support the life of a fetus over a mother’s life that requires abortion, that requires girls pregnant by their father/uncle/brother/rapist to have her little body and soul ripped apart by giving birth. “Consistent” is the messaging. Chilling and sadistic is the message.

That "Consistent Life Ethic" crowd referred to by Laura was represented by, according to Sheppard, "a parade of right-wing groups" including the Family Heritage Alliance, Concerned Women for America, the South Dakota branch of Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, and a political action committee called Family Matters in South Dakota, all of which testified in favor of the amended version of the law.

Now, at least we know where the so-called pro-life community stands on the murder of physicians, and we no longer have to listen to declarations of innocence in the face of violence.

Indeed, in light of the fact that these supporters of egg-as-person laws, abortion bans without exception for life, rape or incest, and other intrusions on the life and personhood of women were so involved in the "hog-housing" otherwise known as bull-dozing of this bill in a rushed hearing, and of the fact that there is no move afoot to clarify that the bill does not render the killing of physicians to be justifiable, I am more than a bit incredulous to read the protestations of South Dakota State Representative Phil Griffin,  to Greg Sargent of the Washington Post According to Sargent:

Griffin insisted that the bill's primary goal is to bring "consistency" to South Dakota criminal code, which already allows people who commit crimes that result in the death of fetuses to be charged with manslaughter. The new measure expands the state's definition of "justifiable homicide" by adding a clause applying it to someone who is "resisting any attempt" to murder of an unborn child or to harm an unborn child in a way likely to result in its death.

Griffin's defense of the bill, writes Sargent, is unlikely to assuage pro-choice advocates "since he seemed to dismiss as irrelevant the possibility that the measure could inflame anti-abortion fanatics to violence."

I think we have heard that before.

********************

FOR AN ACT ENTITLED, An Act to expand the definition of justifiable homicide to provide for the protection of certain unborn children.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA:
    Section 1. That § 22-16-34 be amended to read as follows:
    22-16-34. 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.
    Section 2. That § 22-16-35 be amended to read as follows:
    22-16-35. 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.

Jodi Jacobson

Jodi L. Jacobson is a long-time leader in the health and development community and an advocate with extensive experience in public health, gender equity, human rights, environment and demographic issues. She is currently Editor-in-Chief of RH Reality Check.

 

More in: