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Wow. South Dakota… just Wow.

16 Feb, 11 | by Iain Brassington

I’m a bit bowled over by this.  There’s a Bill currently before the South Dakota legislature that would, if passed, change the scope of justifiable homicide laws.

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.

The underlining’s in the original.  The proposed section 22-16-34 seems to me to say that it’s justifiable homicide for  A to kill B if A thinks B is about to kill them – but also that it’s justifiable for A to kill B if A is pregnant and thinks that B has laced her tea with abortifacient.  Well, I suppose that some kind of punishment is in order… but killing?  Could you not just tip the tea away and phone the police?

So that’s weird.  But the next section is jaw-dropping.  On the assumption – which seems reasonable – that being aborted could be seen as a “great personal injury” to a foetus in the eyes of the law (and being killed is a great personal injury if anything is), it seems to me that the proposed section 22-16-35 pretty much says that it’d be legally OK to kill a doctor if you believed that he was about to perform an abortion for your wife, mother, mistress, or servant, irrespective of her views on the matter.  You might also get away with killing that wife, mother, mistress or servant if the abortion is intentional.

Put another way: it may not be criminal to kill someone for doing something perfectly legal, and which may be medically required.  Say what you like about the rights and wrongs of abortion – but that’s just nuts.

(via PZ Myers.  More coverage available via Mother Jones.)

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  • Lindsay

    A lawyer would probably be pretty concerned that you describe justifiable homicide as “punishment”. Even South Dakota legislator's don't advocate extra-judicial execution… er… do they?

  • http://www.law.manchester.ac.uk/aboutus/staff/iain_brassington Iain Brassington

    Well, if we're going to get all hair-splitty, I don't think I do; I suggest that some kind of punishment might be in order, but express scepticism that killing is.

    As for SD's legislators: no, they don't. Not yet.

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