South Dakota's Right-to-Kill-for-Unborn-Children Bill

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 15 2011 12:06 PM

South Dakota's Right-to-Kill-for-Unborn-Children Bill

Kate Sheppard reported this morning on South Dakota Rep. Phil Jensen's legislation to add the defense of an unborn children to a justifiable homicide statute; Greg Sargent talked to Jensen.

[Jensen] insisted that the bill's primary goal is to bring "consistency" to South Dakota criminal code, which already allows people who commit crimes that result in the death of fetuses to be charged with manslaughter. The new measure expands the state's definition of "justifiable homicide" by adding a clause applying it to someone who is "resisting any attempt" to murder of an unborn child or to harm an unborn child in a way likely to result in its death.

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."

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This is how Jensen has previously characterized it; as Sheppard pointed out, the state's criminal code does does define murder in the first degree as "perpetrated without authority of law and with a premeditated design to effect the deathof the person killed or of any other human being, including an unborn child." But there's that "authority of law" part. 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.

David Weigel is a former Slate political reporter. 

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