South Dakota Ups the Ante on Abortion: Death for the Doctors, Chiding for the Women?

Behold – the latest attempt by South Dakota’s legislature to intimidate any doctors who might consider performing abortions there:

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.

Here’s the full text of the act, with the amendments to current law underlined:

FOR AN ACT ENTITLED, An Act to expand the definition of justifiable homicide to provide for the protection of certain unborn children.

Section 1. That § 22-16-34 be amended to read as follows:

22-16-34. Homicide is justifiable if committed by any person while resisting any attempt to murder such person, or to harm the unborn child of such person in a manner and to a degree likely to result in the death of the unborn child, or to commit any felony upon him or her, or upon or in any dwelling house in which such person is.

Section 2. That § 22-16-35 be amended to read as follows:

22-16-35. 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, if there is reasonable ground to apprehend a design to commit a felony, or to do some great personal injury, and imminent danger of such design being accomplished.

That, my friends, is scary shit. The media and blogosphere exploded with the news this morning, forcing on us the unwelcome reminder that there are parts of the country where this kind of insanity actually flies.

The good news is that some of the more sensational headlines – a prime example being Mother Jones’s “South Dakota Moves to Legalize Killing Abortion Providers” –  are a wee bit misleading. Writing for Slate, Dave Weigel notes that the outcome for killers of abortion doctors is completely contingent on the legality of abortion, now and in the future:

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.

The problem, according to NARAL’s Alisha Sedor, is that a law that looks like it allows the killing of abortion providers is just as dangerous as one that actually does.

“I don’t believe the intent is malicious,” Sedor said. “But the potential legal implications of the bill are what make it dangerous. If it passes without an amendment exempting attacks on providers, it could incite violence from individuals who believe their actions will be found justifiable in court.”

The assumption that right-wing vigilantes may not consult with their lawyers prior to loading their shotguns is probably a fair one. The doctors who do this kind of work (and their nurses, secretarial staff, and volunteers) are used to an unrelenting atmosphere of hostility and harassment created by people who want to see them dead.

“There’s no way I can imagine what his family went through. That’s impossible for me to comprehend. I don’t think they could ever wake up a day and feel secure in the knowledge that nothing was going to happen.”

That quote comes from a friend of Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider who was murdered in May of 2009 by anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder. Dr. Tiller had already survived two previous attempts on his life: his clinic was firebombed in 1986, and he was shot in both of his arms (a total of five times) in 1993. If you haven’t seen Rachel Maddow’s full-length documentary on the circumstances surrounding Dr. Tiller’s death, I can’t recommend it enough – and you can watch it online instantly.

And wait, folks, the story’s not over. A second bill – one that has received substantially less attention – could potentially have a much greater impact on the women who seek abortion in South Dakota. If you’re an atheist, this should make you mad:

Another proposed law, House Bill 1217, would force women to undergo counseling at a Crisis Pregnancy Center (CPC) before they can obtain an abortion. CPCs are not regulated and are generally run by anti-abortion Christian groups and staffed by volunteers—not doctors or nurses—with the goal of discouraging women from having abortions.

Many so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” consider evangelizing a vital part of their mission, one that takes a backseat only to convincing women not to abort – by any means necessary. Tina Dupay investigated one such facility, finding that they didn’t even bother to hide their religious affiliations:

Avenues is a California primary clinic, fully licensed and accredited by the state. So exactly what kind of medical facility lures women with the promise of free pregnancy tests and leaves them fearing eternal damnation?

The mission statement on Avenues’ Web site reads, “Avenues Pregnancy Clinic is a Christ-centered ministry dedicated to affirming the value of life. Our mission is to provide a network of care to those experiencing pregnancy-related crisis and compassionately presenting Biblical truth resulting in changed lives to the glory of God.”

According to their site, Avenues has been “presenting Biblical truth” to women since 1988.

Dupay spoke with two women about their experiences with Avenues. One, “Maggie,” described the following nightmare:

The women talk to her about “living in sin.” They ask her if she believes in God. Yeah, sure, she tells them, she believes in God (and Allah and Buddha and the Master Cleanse). After two-and-a-half hours the nurses ask Maggie if she would like to give her life to Jesus Christ and pray with them. Maggie is blindsided. All she wanted was to know if she was pregnant.

She leaves with a Bible and an existential crisis. “They were so convincing; they said all this stuff,” Maggie tells me, in tears, after her ordeal. “I don’t know. Is it wrong that I’m living with Mike?”

But hey, don’t worry – the bill says religious discussions are off the table during government-forced sessions! That solves the problem, right? Color me unconvinced.

Proselytizing aside, it’s a well-known fact that the vast majority of these CPCs provide patently false or misleading information about abortion. A 2006 report filed by the U.S. House’s Committee on Government Reform showed that 87% of them were lying to their clients about the “consequences” of the procedure, the efficacy of birth control, and other related issues.

This bill, if passed, will make anti-abortion organizations the gatekeepers to abortion care. I want to know what’s stopping them from postponing the mandated “private interviews” to prevent women from obtaining abortions before the clock runs out and the procedure becomes cost-prohibitive or illegal. I want to know what’s protecting women from being subjected to blatant lies about a medical procedure they have every right to obtain.

But most of all, reader, I want to know what you plan to do about it.

Listed below are all the state congressmen who tacked their names onto HB 1217. If you’re represented by any one of them – and even if you’re not – please consider giving them a piece of your mind.

Rep. Roger Hunt (R) – District 10

Rep. Gen Abdallah (R) – District 10

Rep. Jim Bolin* (R) – District 16

Rep. Thomas Brunner* (R) – District 29

Rep. Justin Cronin (R) – District 23

Rep. Dennis Feickert (D) – District 3

Rep. Brian Gosch (R) – District 32

Rep. Brock Greenfield* (R) – District 6

Rep. Jon Hansen* (R) – District 35

Rep. Steve Hickey* (R) – District 9

Rep. Charles Hoffman* (R) – District 23

Rep. Lora Hubbel* (R) – District 11

Rep. Phil Jenson* (R) – District 33

Rep. Patrick Kirschman (D) – District 13

Rep. Frank Kloucek (D) – District 19

Rep. Don Kopp* (R) – District 35

Rep. Melissa Magstadt* (R) – District 5

Rep. Scott Munsterman (R) – District 7

Rep. Stace Nelson* (R) – District 25

Rep. Lance Russell* (R) – District 30

Rep. Manny Steele* (R) – District 12

Rep. Patricia Stricherz* (R) – District 8

Rep. Shawn Tornow (R) – District 14

Rep. Burt Tulson (R) – District 6

Rep. Edward Van Gerpen* (R) – District 19

Rep. Mark Venner* (R) – District 24

Rep. Hal Wick (R) – District 12

Sen. Al Novstrup (R) – District 3

Sen. Corey Brown (R) – District 23

Sen. Phyllis Heineman (R) – District 13

Sen. Ried Holien (R) – District 5

Sen. Elizabeth Kraus* (R) – District 33

Sen. Dan Lederman* (R) – District 16

Sen. Ryan Maher* (R) – District 28

Sen. Russell Olson (R) – District 8

Sen. Timothy Rave (R) – District 25

Sen. Larry Rhoden (R) – District 29

Sen. Todd Schlekeway (R) – District 11

* Also introduced HB 1171, the act redefining justifiable homicide.

  • Adam

    Well done Katie… I hope those Congressmen get an earful from intelligent people – LIKE YOU! Thanks for sharing this with all of us.

  • Tsu Dho Nimh

    or to commit any felony upon him or her, or upon or in any dwelling house in which such person is.

    So you can also burn down their house? Assault them? Rape them? Any felony you want?

  • Candice

    What if you killed the person who was planning on killing a doctor who performs abortions? Sounds justifiable to me… Probably wouldn't seem that way in a court of law…

  • Douglus


  • John Garfield

    This is just badly written. As it is, you can pretty much justify killing anybody for anything. Which is ironic, considering it's meant to be a "pro-life" piece of legislation. Keeping in mind that each sentence fragment within commas is self-contained and independently valid, consider:

    "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,…"

    Really? ANY felony? Like fraud? BANG! You're in the SD now!

    "…, or upon or in any dwelling house in which such person is."

    BANG! Get offn my shed!

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