Phil Jensen, S.D. lawmaker, offers bill justifying homicide against abortion providers

S.D. Rep. Phil Jensen says this is all a misunderstanding.

S.D. Rep. Phil Jensen says this is all a misunderstanding.

A bill that could make murdering an abortion provider a justifiable homicide was apparently this close to becoming law in neighboring South Dakota.

But Phil Jensen, the Rapid City Republican and avid abortion rights opponent who authored the measure, may be backing down in the face of a national outcry.

HB 1171 was introduced in late January and was scheduled to come to a floor debate yesterday, but it's been delayed.

Here's the language (emphasis added in bold):

FOR AN ACT ENTITLED, An Act to expand the definition of justifiable homicide to provide for the protection of certain unborn children. BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA: 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 seems pretty clear, but Jensen, a strident foe of abortion rights, insisted to the Washington Post he's not announcing open season on abortion providers.

"This code only deals with illegal acts. Abortion is legal in this country. This has nothing to do with abortion."

South Dakota already has some of the most restrictive laws in the country when it comes to abortion rights, including mandatory waiting periods and parental notification. Prosecutors can also charge people with manslaughter or murder for crimes that result in the death of fetuses. Doctors are required by law to discourage women from having abortions. Given that environment, abortion rights activists dismiss Jensen's claims that the bill is being misread, and they point out that the bill's language was amended to include "the unborn child" after anti-abortion rights activists jammed a committee hearing seeking the language.

"It takes my breath away," George Washington University law professor Sara Rosenbaum told Mother Jones. "Constitutionally, a state cannot make it a crime to perform a constitutionally lawful act."

"We have not seen anything like this before," Elizabeth Nash, of the Guttmacher Institute, told Reuters. "It's really chilling."

With the cat out of the bag, Jensen told the Post today he's considering changing the language.

"There's no way in the world that I or any other representatives wish to see abortion doctors murdered," Jensen said. "So we're looking at some language that will include that."

Failing a suitable change in the language, he told the Rapid City Journal that he'll consider dropping the bill altogether