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The Daily Need

Furor erupts over S.D. bill that would make killing to defend fetus a ‘justifiable homicide’

Protesters demonstrate in downtown Sioux Falls, S.D. in 2006 over a bill that would have restricted access to abortion. Photo: AP/Nati Harnik

Update | Feb. 22 South Dakota State Rep. Marc Feinstein, a Democrat, said the measure had been tabled and “effectively killed” over the weekend, “much to the chagrin of opponents,” who had been hoping for a floor debate and a chance to defeat the bill in a vote.

Updated | Feb. 15 | 4:55 p.m. A bill in South Dakota that would make killing in defense of a fetus a “justifiable homicide” is set to face a vote on the floor of the state House of Representatives Wednesday, and lawmakers who oppose the measure say it is likely to pass.

The vote was originally scheduled for Tuesday but was postponed because of “an anticipated lengthy debate,” according to State Rep. Marc Feinstein.

The bill would expand the definition of the state’s “justifiable homicide” law to include acts intended to prevent harm to a fetus, which has prompted fears among pro-choice advocates that the measure could incite and perhaps even legalize violence against abortion providers.

The bill was passed out of a House committee last week by a vote of 9 to 3. In an interview with Need to Know, State Rep. Kevin Killer, a Democrat and one of the three members of the committee to vote against the measure, said the bill was scheduled for a vote by the entire House and that he expected it to pass, “much to my dismay.”

Feinstein, another of the Democrats who voted against the bill in committee, said in an interview from the House chamber that the law was superfluous given the protections that already exist for acts of self-defense in the state’s criminal code. Feinstein said the measure was “overstepping reasonableness.”

“I think what you really have to look at is, What is the hidden intent here?” Feinstein said. “And I think the hidden intent is anti-abortion.”

Republican lawmakers were in a caucus meeting Tuesday afternoon and several of them did not return calls for comment.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican State Rep. Phil Jensen, defended the bill in an interview with The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent earlier today, denying that it would make violence against abortion providers legal. Jensen said he was simply attempting to bring “consistency” to South Dakota’s criminal code, which allows people who commit crimes that result in the death of a fetus to be charged with manslaughter. Because abortion is currently not a crime, Jensen told Sargent, the “justifiable homicide” law would not apply. “This has nothing to do with abortion,” Jensen said.

Killer, however, disagreed. “The language and the intent of the bill alone, I think, is kind of a counter-argument to that,” Killer said.

He added that the bill might even apply to doctors who simply recommend abortion as a viable option, not just medical professionals who actually carry out the abortions themselves. “If you wanted to take up some kind of action against a doctor who’s giving you an opinion on something, that you might disagree with,” Killer said, Jensen’s “justifiable homicide” law might apply.

Mostly, Killer said, the bill was designed to make access to abortion — which is already scarce in South Dakota — even more limited, by intimidating abortion providers. “At the heart of it, I think that’s what it is,” Killer said.

Feinstein noted that South Dakota voters had twice rejected laws that would restrict access to abortion, in popular votes in 2006 and 2008. Bills like the one proposed by Jensen, he said, were simply attempts by the powerful “no-choice” movement, as he called it, to further advance their agenda.

“There’s a very strong no-choice movement in the state of South Dakota. They have been supported by a considerable amount of faith-based money,” Feinstein said. “And they’ve just become more powerful.”

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  • Guest 5

    When I read these kinds of articles I get very angry. Fortunately at the relevant time we were living outside the USA, and having a good Medical cover policy as an expatriate (with a none US local medical insurance company) my wife and I faced this issue of abortion.
    The reason in our case of why an abortion was chosen or the term duration at the time of abortion we will not discuss with anyone.
    Suffice to say after my wife and I consulted a Doctor, the decision was made to abort. As it happened the initially consulted Doctor said it was not her speciality ( She was gyneacoligist) and referred us to colleague and the abortion was performed.
    Our point is simple ( we do have our faith) but we see this as a matter of fundamental personal freedom beyond the dictats of any specific religious bodies interpretation of our faith. As my wife said I will not be dictated to by a bunch of men ( priests ministers etc call them what you like mostly men) who have no idea of what carrying a child involves either sexually, emotionally or physically,mentally, or how to decide and why and when OR NOT.
    By the way we do have three other glorious kids of whom we are very proud.
    Our point is yes we respect your faith and please follow it in the way you believe it should on this subject ( NO ABORTION, we are happy for you and your faith and beliefs), but we dont care if you are so called right!?
    It does not give you or your religious leaders (political action groups) the power as a third party to interfere because you do not know the facts in totality of each case or why and are impinging on the personal freedoms we demand.
    = Every abortion decision is different and legislation is hopeless/useless therefore as a solution. The obvious like Rape, Incest,D&E are the tip of the iceberg.
    Not our problem ( any of the specifics above directly) but by what right do you pro lifers demand ( remember in the US religion and politics therefore laws are constitutionally separated) say to a couple knowing they have say a Downs syndrome child or Spina biffida,or other serious issue fetus have the right to demand we carry that pregnancy to life.. is it life? As you sentient normal beings know it ??.. answer no you have no idea!! And by what right do you demand the costs emotional and mentally especially and physically and monetary that we do so??
    And give me a break is Sarah Palin taking care of her downs syndrome child .
    Answer NO she is not she is not there enough to do so.
    Stop pontificating and legislating and give me freedom( liberty) or death and let those who should decide woman first and father/doctor (except/rape incest) butt out please legally!! Money wise, law wise, or ethically or religiously.
    If your own faith says no to abortion for any reason, follow it and be happy, but do not impose your faith on us or anyone else either directly or indirectly!! Be happy for us as well please!!
    Guest 5