Defending Motherhood by Murdering Pregnant Women?
Regarding the Christian Taliban in charge of the South Dakota legislature right now, I found myself parsing the wording of the proposed South Dakota law that would legalize the killing of abortion providers as "justifiable homicide." I read this article at Feministing that pointed out that pregnant women seeking abortion might also be justifiably murdered under this law. A commenter there, "Nick B," responded that the law specifies that only the pregnant woman is allowed to kill someone in defense of her fetus.
I believe Nick is wrong. Here's the actual wording of the bill itself, which has two provisions:
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.
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.
I'm a writer and not a lawyer (although I've had to interpret quite a bit of legislation in my technical writing work), but here's my literal interpretation of the law's wording in relation to defense of a fetus.
The first provision means that the pregnant woman herself can kill someone in defense of her fetus. The second provision means that anyone - let's say "Joe" - can kill someone who is a threat to the fetus of Joe's pregnant spouse, parent, child, employer, or employee. This can be seen by dropping the middle clause from the second provision, which is unnecessary and not part of the "unborn child" clause:
"Homicide is justifiable if committed by any person in the lawful defense of ... the unborn child of any such enumerated person..."
This wording would not necessarily preclude Joe from killing the pregnant woman herself, since from a legal standpoint, the "person" being defended (the fetus in this case) is not required to survive Joe's rescue attempt in order for Joe to be justified in acting in its defense.
The idea of killing a pregnant woman in order to defend her fetus may seem absurd, but it actually makes perfect sense from the anti-choice viewpoint. When the law recognizes the fetus as a separate being with rights, its physical dependence on a woman for survival becomes irrelevant. It's also consistent with Catholic doctrine, as Catholic hospitals will let pregnant women die along with their fetuses rather than do an abortion that would save the woman's life. Remember that the focus of the anti-choice movement is not on saving fetuses, but on compelling women to fulfill their motherhood role - to which they can be sacrificed because that is their reason for being. Further, the large and influential extremist wing of the movement would believe that such a sacrifice is especially justified when a pregnant woman requires punishment - e.g., because she had sex out of wedlock or is considering an abortion. Her punishment (being murdered) would also serve as a good lesson to other pregnant women considering abortion.