The South Dakota bill expanding the definition of justifiable homicide to protect an unborn child is, well, dead. And it looks like we can thank the national shitstorm over the fact that it appeared to legalize the killing of abortion providers. Good job, everyone!
The New York Times reports that the bill, which had just made it out of committee, has been "shelved, pending a decision on whether to allow a vote, amend the language or drop it entirely." A spokesman for the Governor said, "Clearly the bill as it's currently written is a very bad idea."
On the first day after Mother Jones brought the debate over the bill to a national scale, the representative who proposed it, Phil Jensen, hastily made the rounds insisting, unconvincingly, that it had nothing to do with abortion. That was Tuesday.
By Wednesday, he was telling The Washington Post that he was open to revising the language to specifically protect abortion providers. Jensen said, "There's no way in the world that I or any other representatives wish to see abortion doctors murdered."
Noted interviewer Greg Sargent, "His decision to consider changing the bill amounts to an admission that the proposal may be flawed and perhaps not as clear cut as he insisted... He seemed a bit flustered and chastened by the national media controversy that engulfed him yesterday."
Clearly, Jensen was backed in a corner — after all, even Operation Rescue opportunistically announced that it found the bill extreme. "The pro-life movement, by definition, is in favor of protecting human life from the moment of conception to natural death, and we reject all forms of violence," he told The Times. (Take that with a gigantic grain of salt.) Much less disingenuous: The words of the one limited-circumstances provider in the state — who performs abortions for health and safety reasons. "Once you get the sense that the Legislature will tolerate violence against abortion providers, even if the legislation is not enacted, it crosses the line into intimidation," he said.
On the one hand, devoting pro-choice resources to ultra-extreme proposals that may be marginal and have little chance of enactment could be a distraction — abortion access faces a far more widespread onslaught from slightly less controversial measures like ultrasound requirements. On the other, Democrats are seizing on it as a way to show how extreme Republicans are, as Dave Weigel reports today at Slate:
Abortion rights activists, whose relevance had been waning during elections fought over the war in Iraq and the Great Recession, have found a toehold in politics again. The strategy has three parts.
1) Wait for the pro-life movement, now at an apex of political power, to do something stupid.
2) Pounce on the stupid thing that it just did.
We would add that the "relevance" is from the perspective of a Democratic party (or parts of it) that has perfectly willing to compromise on choice when it's convenient, as we saw during the debate over the Stupak-Pitts amendment. Taking the pro-choice vote for granted was apparently fine then, until Republicans got control of the House.
And if the end result of all of this pouncing is an awareness of how extreme anti-abortion political forces are — including their clear opposition to access to contraception and safe-sex information — then that's all well and good. It's even better if the end result is a bulwark against creeping compromise in the Senate. Weigel says,
The Republican House was always likely to pass anti-abortion legislation; pro-choice activists concede that it's still going to do so. The question is whether the legislation could roll through the Senate. There were reasons to be fearful. In 2009, Sen. Ben Nelson got 45 votes for an amendment to the health care bill that would have done what Smith's bill does. There is, theoretically, a Senate majority for pro-life bills. But there might not be if they become toxic, or if they're portrayed as part of a national bum-rush toward some Anti-Abortionist's Bill of Rights.
In other words, make some noise, or watch your rights get chipped away, one "compromise" at a time.