Nebraska's "Justifiable Homicide" Bill Looks A Lot Like Controversial South Dakota Bill

February 24, 2011 1:06 pm ET — Kate Conway

The Nebraska legislature is considering a bill to add protection of an unborn child to its justifiable homicide law. The bill, LB 232, is similar to a measure recently shelved in South Dakota due to worries it could make the murder of abortion providers legally defensible. Unlike the South Dakota bill, however, Nebraska's would protect the use of deadly force by "any third party" — not just the pregnant woman and her immediate family.

During a state Judiciary Committee hearing on LB 232, a number of Nebraska legislators, public officials, and experts warned that the bill could "incite violence at abortion clinics," "justify attacks on ... women seeking an abortion," and protect "vigilantes."

David Baker, an assistant chief in the Omaha Police Department, said the bill, if passed, could incite violence at abortion clinics.

Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford, chairman of the Legislature's Judiciary Committee, agreed.

"We could see firefights at clinics," he said. [...]

Omaha Sen. Brenda Council said the bill would have allowed an anti-abortion activist in Kansas to successfully claim that he shot and killed an abortion provider, Dr. George Tiller, in self-defense in 2009.

Alan Peterson of American Civil Liberties Union Nebraska said some people in the anti-abortion movement believe something "not lawful" occurs during every abortion. Therefore, he said, the bill could allow assailants to justify attacks on clinic workers and even women seeking an abortion, in the name of protecting the unborn fetus.

"This bill protects vigilantes, and that's something that's unprecedented in our society," said Melissa Grant of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.

Mother Jones points out that murderers of abortion providers — including the man who killed Dr. George Tiller — have previously attempted to use the justifiable homicide defense at their trials. Tiller's murderer was sentenced to life in prison, but with a law on the books allowing an unrelated person to kill in order to protect a fetus, his defense might have carried more legal weight. The bill's sponsor has said that he would be willing to change it so that only the mother could use the justifiable homicide defense.

Undoubtedly, pregnant women should be able to protect themselves against assaults aimed at harming their children. But as Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop pointed out, "It's difficult to understand how someone could attack a fetus without attacking the mother" — and women are already legally allowed to defend themselves.

All this makes LB 232 begin to look suspiciously like a back door fetal personhood bill — a popular way that anti-abortion legislators attempt to curb abortion that would have all sorts of extreme ramifications for women's rights.