Terrorism and Magical Thinking

Kate Sheppard reports from South Dakota:


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 has a fascinating explanation for the actual intentions of the law:

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."


Right. It's not like there are already such laws on the books in South Dakota, or anything:

22-16-34. Justifiable homicide--Resisting attempted murder--Resisting felony on person or in dwelling house. Homicide is justifiable if committed by any person while resisting any attempt to murder such person, or to commit any felony upon him or her, or upon or in any dwelling house in which such person is.

No, I think Adam Serwer pretty much has this right. You have a state that is not so much concerned about terror as they concerned about terror practiced against a particular class of people:

This bill essentially legalizes terrorism, with the intent of reducing the number of abortion providers by forcing them to operate under the threat of state-sanctioned murder. In keeping with recent efforts by Republicans to limit a woman's ability to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term, the legalized terrorism portion of the bill is merely the most sensational institutional barrier being erected. As with the national GOP's effort to redefine rape while defunding women's health services, devoting full attention to that particular proposal avoids all the other South Dakota bills that seek to make it more difficult for women to have abortions.

I was thinking about this in reference to Donald Trump's sudden, and surely heartfelt, transformation from pro-choice to pro-life. Whereas everyone "likes" babies, no one "likes" abortion.  Moreover, pregnancy in our society is not seen with the clearest eyes. When we think of pregnancy we do not think of constant, prolonged, intensive labor which burdens virtually every organ of the body. We think of baby-showers, glowing skin and bundles of joy. It is almost as if the work of making a human being is really no work at all. A man ejaculates, and the rest is romantic comedy. Starring J-Lo, of course. 


Thus for the professional demagogue, abortion is the softest of targets. For the rest of us, it's a microsm to our inability to cope with the grotesque beauty of life itself. No one "likes" to gain weight. No one likes being inflated with noxious gas. No one "likes" waking up not sure of which end to stick in the toilet bowl. No one "likes" back and knees injuries sustained from their cheer-leading days summoning themselves back into being. But everyone likes cheering for a bundle of joy. Everybody loves babies, but no one wants to labor. Under such thinking, the spectacle of public servants claiming to protect life through the legal killing of doctors is as disturbing as it is predictable.

As an aside, I want to specifically thank Amanda Marcotte for writing about this. I have long been pro-choice, but the formulation of pregnancy as actual work was not one I was deeply familiar with, nor was it one whose implications I'd much grappled with. I don't know that the point is original to her, but I would hate to be credited with it in any way. It's a deep point, and one that isn't said enough. But it, is no way, original to me.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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