msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 2/15/2011 3:28:50 PM ET 2011-02-15T20:28:50

A South Dakota bill would expand the definition of justifiable homicide to include killings intended to prevent harm to a fetus, prompting abortion rights activists to claim it provides a possible defense for killing doctors who perform abortions, Mother Jones magazine reported Tuesday.

The GOP-backed proposal, House Bill 1171, was sponsored by an abortion rights foe, Rep. Phil Jensen. It passed out of the House Judiciary Committee last week. ArgusLeader.com said a vote set for Tuesday on the House floor was deferred and the bill was on the agenda for Wednesday. The bill's prospects were uncertain.

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"This simply is to bring consistency to South Dakota statute as it relates to justifiable homicide," Jensen told Mother Jones. "If you look at the code, these codes are dealing with illegal acts. Now, abortion is a legal act. So this has got nothing to do with abortion."

But abortion rights activists disagreed. Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, called the bill "an invitation to murder abortion providers."

South Dakota's laws already severely restrict abortion. There are no abortion providers in the state, but Planned Parenthood brings in a doctor from out of the state once a week to see patients in Sioux Falls, the magazine said.

Abortion rights activists say South Dakota voters want the Legislature to stop trying to restrict abortions. In two statewide votes, South Dakotans rejected measures that sought to ban nearly all abortions, they said.

But another measure, requiring women to consult with pregnancy help centers before getting abortions, was endorsed Monday by a House committee.

Opponents said the bill would let pregnancy centers harass women, rather than give them sound medical advice. Women seeking abortions would have to talk with pregnancy center counselors even if they did not want to do so, they said.

The bill says an abortion could only be scheduled by a doctor who has personally met with a woman and determined whether she is voluntarily seeking an abortion. An abortion could not be performed until at least 72 hours after that first consultation.

Before getting an abortion, the woman also would have to consult with a pregnancy help center to get information about services available to help her give birth and keep a child. The state would publish a list of pregnancy help centers that seek to persuade women not to have abortions.

Supporters noted that a 2005 South Dakota law already requires that women be told that an abortion will end the life of a living human being. That law remains subject to a legal challenge in court.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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