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The South Dakota Bill That Could Legitimize Murder of Abortion Providers

If you had any doubt that we are moving toward a hate-filled, vigilante society, you now have an unequivocal answer.

If you had any doubt that we are moving toward a hate-filled, vigilante society, you now have an unequivocal answer.  Scott Roeder claimed justifiable homicide in the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in his church vestibule. Now, just two days after a female member of the Minuteman militia was convicted of murdering two innocent people--including a 9-year-old girl--while attempting to murder another, South Dakota legislators have introduced legislation that could de-criminalize the shooting of doctors, nurses, patients and volunteers at clinics providing abortion care.

Yup. You read that right. Elected officials--all of whom supposedly swore to uphold the law--are now encouraging people to literally take the law--as they understand it--into their own gun-owning hands.

The South Dakota bill, House Bill 1171 (the language of which is below), is an outgrowth of legislation that criminalizes harm to fetuses, a back-door route used by anti-choice forces for the past decade to criminalize abortion by conferring the rights of personhood on a fetus.

HB 1171 is one of three new bills being considered by the South Dakota legislature which seems, in "representing the people," to have completely forgotten that those same South Dakotans have repeatedly rejected such measures at the ballot box. The other two gems? House Judiciary Committee HB1217 would institute forcible “counseling” at anti-choice clinics (as Tiffany Campbell reported earlier) and HB 1218, would criminalize all surrogacy in South Dakota. 

"While each of these bills is absurd in their own right," according to South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, "they have one thing in common."

They are all attempts to allow government intrusion in to personal decisions best made by a woman, her family and doctor. Yet, a few ideologues continue to press their personal agenda and interfere with private decisions.  This must stop.

Fetal homicide statutes have been on some state law books since the early seventies, according to, but many did not stipulate when a fetus became a person and potential crime victim, leaving courts to decide whether the death of an early-term fetus constituted a separate crime in maternal murder cases.  But states more recently began using "cookie-cutter language in fetal homicide laws, assigning legal rights to fetuses at any gestational age,” Sondra Goldschein, state strategies director for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project, told in 2006. 

Abortion rights advocates have long argued that these laws are part of a legal strategy to establish that life begins at conception. “It’s the elevation of the status of the fetus that is going to erode the right to access abortion,” Goldschein said. Anti-abortion groups promote the laws, saying fetuses should be recognized as living human beings.

South Dakota has three such laws.  One defines vehicular homicide, which includes the death of an unborn child, if for example, someone driving under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances "causes the death of another person, including an unborn child" (2006 HB 1163).  A second law defines fetal homicide as occurring when a person who knew, or reasonably should have known, "that a woman bearing an unborn child was pregnant and caused the death of the unborn child without lawful justification."  And a third defines homicide as "murder in the first degree to include the death of a person or any other human being, including an unborn child."

None of these laws distinguishes between wanted and unwanted or untenable pregnancies and all of them confer rights on fetuses apart from their mothers, thereby undermining the core foundation of a woman's right to choose whether and when to continue a pregnancy to term and to bear and raise a child.

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