This week, the South Dakota House of Representatives is considering a bill that could make it legal to murder abortion providers.
Some states—including South Dakota—consider homicide justifiable when it is an act of self-defense or in defense of another person. But HB 1171 would expand the definition of "justifiable homicide" to include homicide that is intended to prevent harm to a fetus in certain circumstances. Abortion is not only legal in this country, but is a constitutionally protected right. As worded, this bill is an invitation to murder those who provide these legal health care services.
Since the 1990s, anti-abortion extremists have tried to advance the idea that the murder of abortion providers is “justifiable.” The first provider was murdered in 1993. Since then, there have been seven subsequent murders and 17 attempted murders of clinic staff and physicians.
Following the first murder, anti-abortion extremists began signing and circulating defensive action, or justifiable homicide, petitions endorsing the use of deadly force against abortion providers.
One of the originators of these petitions, Paul Hill, went on to murder Dr. John Bayard Britton and his escort, James H. Barrett, in front of a Pensacola, FL abortion clinic in 1994. Hill and his attorneys tried to use the "justifiable homicide" defense in his murder trial, but the judge would not allow it. The judge ruled that the defense was not valid because it did not meet the standards of Florida's justifiable homicide law, which is cited only in cases of self-defense or when a defendant kills to protect a third person.
Another proponent of “justifiable homicide,” James Kopp, was convicted of the 1998 murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian in Buffalo, NY. Kopp used a long-range rifle to shoot Dr. Slepian in his home in front of his family. Kopp is also widely believed to be responsible for the shootings of three Canadian abortion providers, also in their homes. Kopp initially announced that he would use the trial to argue that his crime was an act of "justifiable homicide," but later waived his right to a jury trial. Although he tried to present his anti-abortion views as justification for the murder during his appeal, the judge ruled that the necessity defense was not applicable in cases such as this where the defendant was trying to prevent legal actions.
Scott Roeder, convicted just last year for the murder of Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, KS, also testified in court that his actions were justified. Roeder made repeated unsuccessful attempts to use a so-called “necessity defense” to argue his anti-abortion beliefs in support of a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter rather than first degree murder. However, the judge ruled that Roeder's actions did not meet the state's criteria for the lesser crime—that the defendant used deadly force to stop imminent, unlawful harm.
Given the history of violence against abortion providers, it’s inconceivable that any state would consider this type of legislation. In a civilized society, we cannot allow anti-abortion extremists to murder abortion providers in order to advance their own religious and political beliefs. South Dakota must not legalize the murder of abortion providers.