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Bill Allowing “Justifiable Homicide” for Killing Abortion Providers Stopped in South Dakota

Score one for independent journalism. Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones exposed the legislation in South Dakota that could have provided a legal defense for murderers of abortion providers under a “justifiable homicide” statute. The sponsor of the bill, Phil Jensen, faced an immediate backlash, and altered the bill multiple times to take the heat off him. Now, the New York Times reports that the bill has been shelved.

A state bill to expand the definition of justifiable homicide in South Dakota to include killing someone in the defense of an unborn child was postponed indefinitely Wednesday after an uproar over whether the legislation would put abortion providers at greater risk.

The House speaker, Val Rausch, said that the legislation had been shelved, pending a decision on whether to allow a vote, amend the language or drop it entirely. A spokesman for Gov. Dennis Daugaard said, “Clearly the bill as it’s currently written is a very bad idea.”

The bill, approved by the House Judiciary Committee last week on a 9-to-3 party-line vote, establishes in part that “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.”

A couple things here. The backlash on the bill was swift and immediate. We like to lament in the progressive movement that only conservatives have a noise machine, and only they can bubble things up in the media. That’s not necessarily true. Or rather, it is on certain ticky-tack, meaningless issues. But on no-brainers like this, progressives absolutely have the ability to move eyeballs and generate attention.

Second, this isn’t the end of the road for the culture wars in South Dakota or anywhere else. Maybe this “legalize murder” bill has been shelved, but as Sheppard reports in a follow-up, a separate bill in the South Dakota state legislature would “force women to visit Crisis Pregnancy Centers—which are generally run by anti-abortion rights groups—before they can obtain an abortion.” That bill will probably pass. These culture war battles will never end; there’s no truce that can be made. They can only be fought.

Third, I remember saying a while ago that the interesting stuff in politics in 2011 will all happen at the state level. I didn’t know precisely where, but when I look at this, and what is happening in Wisconsin, I know that was a pretty right-on statement.

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David Dayen

David Dayen