Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones:
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.
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.”
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.
Jensen 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.
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 you’re 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?”
This is how Jensen has previously characterized it; as Sheppard pointed out, the state’s criminal code does does define murder in the first degree as “perpetrated without authority of law and with a premeditated design to effect the death of the person killed or of any other human being, including an unborn child.” But there’s that “authority of law” part. It’s legal to perform abortions. And this is why the Jensen bill wouldn’t legalize the killing of abortion doctors. It just looks like it does, right now. It would legalize of abortion doctors if abortion became illegal.
Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs
Miriam Perez at Feministing:
It’s clear this bill likely has the goal of inciting violence–murder–of abortion providers. But I think this logic can actually be taken a step further, to include the murder of a pregnant woman herself.
Often one connection between anti-choice legislation that isn’t talked about is how it affects the rights of pregnant women who do want to parent. I’m talking about the rights of pregnant women to decide what kind of medical treatment they will seek–and not necessarily abortion.
There is an incredible battle going on around the country about the rights of pregnant women to refuse certain types of medical care (as the rest of us are legally entitled to do). In numerous cases, women have been forced against their will to have c-sections or other medical procedures in the name of the protecting the fetus.
This proposed legislation takes that logic to it’s extreme–not only is it okay to super-cede the autonomy and rights of pregnant women in the name of the fetus–you could actually justifiably murder her in pursuit of this as well. In addition, of course, to doctors performing perfectly legal and constitutionally protected abortions.
You can smell the rationalization built in to say this isn’t about terrorism, because most people who have successfully killed abortion providers didn’t actually know any patients of theirs. But obviously, it’s an invitation to kill abortion providers, especially in light of how much the larger anti-choice movement is trying to encourage men who are bitter because an abortion allowed a girlfriend to leave them. In other words, men who are angry because they couldn’t trap a woman with pregnancy. Let’s be clear that any man who thinks it’s appropriate to trap a woman with pregnancy is a man who deserves to lose his relationship, full stop, but anti-choicers tend to romanticize and celebrate controlling, abusive men. I’ve seen anti-choice websites encourage men who’ve impregnated women to stomp into abortion clinics and try to remove her forcibly (though this is often portrayed in romantic terms, because hey, you’re showing her that you want to keep her around, and any woman should be slobberingly grateful that a man will have her). And of course, there’s the oldie-but-a-goodie of Jill Stanek applauding men beating women to punish them for thinking they can say no to incubating the manly seed. After describing the scene in “Godfather II” where Michael Corleone—a cold-blooded murdering gangster—slaps his wife after she admits an abortion, Stanek said (man, this never gets old):
That spontaneous slap was the reaction of a real man who a woman had just told she aborted his baby. Compare that to the modern day cowardly male response, “It’s your choice. Whatever you decide, I’ll support you.”
Straight from the “pro-life” mouth: Real men use violence to control women. Cowards believe women own themselves.
In the real world, it’s not unknown for abortion clinics to have to go to great lengths to keep domestic abusers from harming their partners or the health professionals in a clinic trying to provide abortions. Many abortion clinics just don’t let male partners past the waiting room, even though that means that women who want support from loving male partners often have to go it alone. It’s just a safety precaution, though. Unfortunately, domestic abusers are just the sorts to wait until the procedure is about to start to start throwing shit and breaking things, in order to get the maximum impact on the victim. That’s kind of how these things work, and clinics have to work around that.
If this bill passes into law, a wife beater whose wife is trying to abort for the entirely sensible reason that you don’t want babies with a batterer could walk into a clinic, shoot the doctor to prevent the abortion, and plead justifiable homicide, with the blessing of the South Dakota legislature and presumably the anti-choice movement that lobbied them.
For all the ridiculous paranoia on the right about creeping “sharia law,” here we see a Republican plan at the state level to make it legal to assassinate medical professionals as part of a larger culture war.