Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In the news: South Dakota

Back in 2006, South Dakota made the news when its governor signed a bill into law that effectively banned abortions unless the mother's life were in clear danger (note: the linked website isn't accurate in all of its articles, but does give a good overview of South Dakota's HB 1215). The news turned into headlines when the President of the Oglala Sioux declared that, if the law continued to exist, she would open an abortion clinic on Pine Ridge Reservation (read: out of the jurisdiction of South Dakota) to offer women options who otherwise wouldn't have them. The South Dakota law is currently described as being "dead in the water."

Now, unfortunately, South Dakota is back at it- this time with a proposed law that would permit homicide against doctors performing abortions...on the grounds of defense. You read that right. The text of the bill, HB 1171, states that
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.
Again, you read that correctly. Someone who murders a doctor performing an abortion, under this law, could legitimately claim "defense of the unborn" in the same way one could claim self-defense in other circumstances.

I'll repeat here what I've said before in this blog: I'm wholeheartedly in favour of abortion rights. I also understand that not everyone is. The utter wrongness of South Dakota's proposed law, however, isn't whether or not it favours abortion rights. It's that it favours- no, scratch that- legalizes the murder of a person who is performing an important and, in many ways life-saving, procedure. Theoretically, someone could extend the law to protect themselves if they murder the person who is pregnant and requests the abortion- after all, they're technically attempting "to harm the unborn child" by seeking the procedure. Could such a loophole, if the law passes, lead to the acceptance of vigilantes who believe it's acceptable to murder a person to punish them for an attempted abortion?

Regardless if the law would be extended to cover such instances...we need to act to discourage its passage.


  1. What I find particularly interesting is that the language of the bill aims to protects the father's rights over the mother's rights. It's not that just anyone can kill a doctor trying to perform an abortion. It's that a mother or a father each have the right to kill someone trying to kill their unborn child. For each parent, this could include someone brutally attacking the mother or trying to force feed her abortion-inducing drugs. However, abortion is only likely to become an issue when the mother consents to it but the father doesn't, since chances are a physician won't perform an abortion unless the woman consents.

    I think you're absolutely right in pointing out too how the language of the bill does nothing to exclude the mother from being killed for attempting an abortion - assuming that she could be killed in a way that would save the baby.

  2. I must admit that to me the bill is saying that the mother of the child has the right to defend herself against anyone who is trying to harm her unborn child, even to the extent of killing the person who is trying to harm her baby.
    It's also seems biased to believe that a father can't protect his unborn child-considering that half of what's in the mother's belly is his, genetically speaking. Just because a child is in the mother's womb, that doesn't mean that she has a right to murder that child against the wishes of the father. But then, I don't agree with abortion unless the mother's been raped or if the mother's life is in danger and the baby can't be taken out by C-section. Even then, the decision is a serious one to make. When you hold your newborn in your arms for the first time, you feel how sacred life is and how grateful you are to have participated in a god-like function: bringing life into the world. You would do anything to protect that child. Just sayin'.

  3. Jenny, I wonder if you misunderstand what Erica and I are saying. It's not that the bill shouldn't give parents the right to protect their children - even unborn children. It's just that the wording is so vague that it could easily be interpreted to include a man rushing into a hospital and killing the doctor performing an abortion - even if the woman is having the abortion for one of the reasons you listed above.

    I'm going to maintain this stance: if abortion is going to be illegal, it should be illegal in and of itself - it shouldn't be legalized, only for someone bombing an abortion clinic to get off on the technicality that it housed doctors who were going to abort his baby. To excuse murder of abortion-performing doctors is to essentially embrace anarchy.

  4. I think Emily put it well. The law's wording is so vague that it goes far beyond the notion of protecting one's unborn child when being, say, attacked by a startled intruder or abused by a spouse or partner. The vagueness effectively declares open season on abortion providers, which absolutely is not the same thing.

  5. It sounds like a great plot for the Showtime Series of Dexter. Not that great of a show; not that great of a law. I wonder if anyone will attempt to prove this law in any way. Boy would that be a big-time case!