February 16, 2011
A state bill to expand the definition of justifiable homicide in South Dakota to include killing someone in the defense of an unborn child was postponed indefinitely Wednesday after an uproar over whether the legislation would put abortion providers at greater risk.
The House speaker, Val Rausch, said that the legislation had been shelved, pending a decision on whether to allow a vote, amend the language or drop it entirely. A spokesman for Gov. Dennis Daugaard said, “Clearly the bill as it’s currently written is a very bad idea.”
The bill, approved by the House Judiciary Committee last week on a 9-to-3 party-line vote, establishes in part that “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.”
The phrasing caused concern and disbelief on both sides of the abortion debate, with activists in the abortion rights and anti-abortion movements calling the language poorly conceived at best, and perhaps an incitement to violence. The bill was cheered, though, by those anti-abortion activists who argue that the use of violence is justified to stop doctors from carrying out abortions.
Dr. Marvin Buehner, of Rapid City, S.D., who is the only doctor in the region to provide abortions for women whose health and safety are at risk, said he was shaken by the measure.
“Once you get the sense that the Legislature will tolerate violence against abortion providers, even if the legislation is not enacted, it crosses the line into intimidation,” he said.
Troy Newman, leader of Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion group, said he was “shocked” when he read the bill, which he worried could encourage violence. “The pro-life movement, by definition, is in favor of protecting human life from the moment of conception to natural death, and we reject all forms of violence,” he said.
Republican supporters of the legislation said it was being misinterpreted as an anti-abortion measure, The intent, they say, is to afford equal protection to unborn children in existing law.
But Sarah Stoesz, president of the local Planned Parenthood chapter, said she also doubted the sponsors’ claims that the legislation was not intended to be an anti-abortion measure. “It’s a very clear shift in the conversation,” she said. “We have never had a public conversation about whether it’s right to kill a doctor.”
Several people convicted of killing abortion providers have tried unsuccessfully to use the justifiable homicide argument.
Dave Leach, an Iowa anti-abortion activist, praised the bill, saying it could end abortions in South Dakota by scaring away doctors or by establishing grounds for someone to kill those who stay.
“There may be something I’m overlooking, but from all appearances, this bill would certainly justify an individual taking the life of an abortionist in order to save human lives,” he said.