Oh, South Dakota!

The good people of South Dakota had the sense to vote down referendums trying to outlaw abortion in 2006 and 2008.  However, there is a current bill still on the table (unfortunately not yet off the table) called H1171 which is taking the entire fight against abortion to a whole new level.  If abortion itself cannot be outlawed, why not legalize the use of violence against abortion providers?   No, seriously.  H1171 is calling the use of lethal force in defense of a fetus a “justifiable homicide”.   I think the argument for this bill runs something along these lines: if someone beats a woman in the stomach as an attempt to induce an abortion, another person could legally defend that woman (and fetus) by killing the attacker.  In other words, the crime is not just against the woman who is being beaten, but also against the fetus, and the use of lethal force in defense of the fetus (and woman) would therefore be justified.  So, as it stands, the bill itself is not directly targeting abortion providers and saying that you can now legally go around killing them.  However, beware the slippery legal slope.  To quote from Mother Jones’ article on the subject:

“The bill in South Dakota is an invitation to murder abortion providers,” says Vicki Saporta, the president of the National Abortion Federation, the professional association of abortion providers. Since 1993, eight doctors have been assassinated at the hands of anti-abortion extremists, and another 17 have been the victims of murder attempts. Some of the perpetrators of those crimes have tried to use the justifiable homicide defense at their trials. “This is not an abstract bill,” Saporta says. The measure could have major implications if a “misguided extremist invokes this ‘self-defense’ statute to justify the murder of a doctor, nurse or volunteer,” the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families warned in a message to supporters last week.

Thankfully, for the moment, due to a national media outcry against H1171, the bill has been momentarily shelved, while Representative Phil Jensen, the bill’s sponsor, decides to either include language to protect abortion providers,or  cancels the bill altogether, since South Dakota law already includes an “unborn child” in the definition of “person”, and Rep. Jensen admits there may not be a need for a separate bill.  The NY Times also has the article here. There is supposed to be a further decision made on whether to go forward with H1171 today, so I will try to update this as the news arrives.

Even if the justifiable homicide aspect is dropped in H1171, there is still another bill pending in the South Dakota legislature which proposes to make getting an abortion in SD even more arduous.  This bill, H1217, would require women to undergo counseling at a Crisis Pregnancy Center (CPC) before being allowed to go forward with an abortion.  As it stands right now, the requirements to get an abortion in SD are already nearly insurmountable.  There is only one clinic in the state which provides abortions, the doctor who does them is flown in from a neighboring state only one day a week, and women are forced to see a sonogram of the fetus and are read from a script emphasizing that the baby is a living, separate entity and that they are connected, before going forward with the procedure.  Adding a visit to a Crisis Pregnancy Center, which are often run by religious/ pro-life organizations, throws up yet another obstacle.  H1217 also proposes adding a mandatory 72 hour wait time between counseling at the CPC and the actual procedure itself.

The 2006 CDC Waxman report has already noted that CPC’s are notorious for providing false and misleading information, and that the majority of counselors are pro-life activists, not trained healthcare professionals.  RH Reality Check has a great article on this.  Mother Jone’s also wrote extensively about the Waxman report and the false information provided by Crisis Pregnancy Centers.  Here are a few other links to blogs discussing H1217:

Our Bodies Our Blog

The Curvature

Blog For Choice

While our focus is caught up on the Federal level and the House’s swift and drastic attack on women’s reproductive rights (more on this to come), it’s easy to lose sight of the smaller state battles which can do a lot to set precedent and undermine Federal laws in the first place. If you’re looking to directly support the women of South Dakota, here is a good place to start: South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families.

Related links:

The Daily Kos: an account from an abortion clinic escort

Belly Tales: post from 2008 on the eve of the 2nd SD referendum vote (which didn’t pass)

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