South Dakota Could Legalize Killing Abortion Doctors

Legislature considering expanding the definition of "justifiable homicide"

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South Dakota's legislature is considering a bill that would legalize killing someone to prevent the harm of a fetus--a measure which could be used to defend people who kill abortion doctors. The legislation changes the legal definition of "justifiable homicide" to include killing a person "while resisting an attempt to harm" the killer's fetus, or the fetus of the killer's parent, child, spouse, or partner. That's even in cases when the pregnant person wants an abortion, Mother Jones' Kate Sheppard reports.

South Dakota legislators have tried repeatedly  to outlaw abortion, but those bans were rejected by voters. So they've passed several laws to chip away at abortion rights, Sheppard reports. Women seeking an abortion have to listen to a lecture that they're terminating "the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being," then wait 24 hours to get the medical procedure. And for 16 years, the state has had no abortion providers--Planned Parenthood flies in a doctor once a week to Sioux Falls.

This is not some wacky bill sponsored by a rogue legislator with no chance of passing it: the measure made it out of committee on a party-line vote. Republicans have huge majorities in both chambers: 70 to 19 in the House and 35 to 5 in the Senate. And many Democrats oppose abortion. The National Abortion Federation's president Vicki Saporta says the bill is not abstract, but "an invitation to murder abortion providers."

State Sen. Angie Buhl, a Democrat, says Republicans are "taking an end run" around voters' wishes. "They recognize that people don't want a ban, so they are trying to seek a de facto ban by making it essentially impossible to access abortion services."

At The Awl, Choire Sicha notes that South Dakota has several get-out-of-jail-free measures when it comes to killing people--"Fun fact: the law as written already allows you to kill to prevent a felony being performed upon your master or your servant."

The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen says that the state's legislature has "gone from odd to frightening with disconcerting speed." Proposed laws include one requiring residents to buy guns and another making it a felony for couples to use a surrogate mom. "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."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.