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The Midwest is seeing a wave of new measures intended to give additional protections to fetuses—including a growing number of bills that could make it legal to kill an abortion doctor in the name of protecting an "unborn child."
A South Dakota bill that could have allowed the "justifiable homicide" defense to be used for individuals who murder abortion providers was shelved last week after public outcry. And as my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Nick Baumann reported Thursday morning, a Nebraska lawmaker introduced a very similar bill there. Now legislators in Iowa are have also introduced a pair of bills that would recognize a fetus as a separate person and would permit "deadly force" in the protection of that fetus, as the Iowa Independent's Lynda Waddington reported Thursday:
Currently, abortion is also settled law in Iowa. But House File 153, sponsored by 28 Republicans, challenges it. Under that bill, the state would be mandated to recognize and protect “life” from the moment of conception until “natural death” with the full force of the law and state and federal constitutions. Essentially, the bill declares that from the moment a male sperm and a female ovum join to create a fertilized egg that a person exists.
House File 7, which has been sponsored by 29 GOP House members, seeks to expand state law regarding use of reasonable force, including deadly force. Current state laws provide that citizens are not required to retreat from their dwelling or place of business if they or a third party are threatened. The proposal would significantly expand this to state that citizens are not required to retreat from “any place at which the person has a right to be present,” and that in such instances, the citizen has the right to use reasonable force, including deadly force, to protect himself or a third party from serious injury or death or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
The first bill is the sort of "fetal personhood" legislation that anti-abortion groups have tried to pass in order to establish a fetus as deserving of the same rights and protections as a woman. But legal experts in the state say that the two bills together create the kind of situation where an anti-abortion extremist could make the argument in court that killing a doctor is a justifiable act to protect an unborn child:
Todd Miler, a criminal defense attorney in Des Moines, agrees that these two bills, when combined, create a situation that could lead to someone claiming the killing of an abortion provider or a family planning worker was reasonable use of deadly force.
"My first thought when I looked at House File 153 was that it was a first step — something that had been put out there as a first step toward a larger political goal. But, when you place it next to House File 7 the potential ramifications are startling," Miler said.
As we pointed out in our initial piece on the South Dakota bill, this is not an abstract concern; anti-abortion activists who have killed doctors have attempted to use this defense in court. So far they have not been successful, but the proposed bills in the Midwest could open that door in the future.