PIERRE, South Dakota (Reuters) - Lawmakers in the South Dakota House of Representatives voted on Thursday to delay further action on a controversial bill that supporters say would protect pregnant women from attack but critics fear could legalize the killing of abortion providers.
By a vote of 61 to 4, the legislators agreed to "table" the bill, known as HB 1171. The proposed law would have expanded the definition of justifiable homicide to include killing by a family member "in the lawful defense of ... his or her husband, wife, parent, child, master, mistress, or servant, or the unborn child of any such enumerated person."
By tabling the bill, the legislators merely agreed to set aside for future consideration. But it is a parliamentary procedure that typically ends discussion of the proposal for the current legislative session.
The bill was introduced in late January by Phil Jensen, a Republican legislator from Rapid City, and is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation. Jensen was one of the lawmakers to vote to table the proposal but three of the bill's other supporters opposed the action.
Many states have laws that permit individuals to protect others with deadly force. But Elizabeth Nash, a policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based pro-choice group that has been tracking state abortion laws since the early 1970s, said the proposed law was the first of its kind that could be construed to provide legal protection for committing murder in order to prevent conduct likely to result in the death of an embryo or fetus.
Jensen's bill has been denounced by a variety of groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and NARAL Pro-Choice America, which say it could incite violence against abortion providers.
South Dakota has been at the center of some of the most bitter recent fights between supporters and opponents of abortion, which was legalized in 1973 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade.
In both 2006 and 2008, state legislators passed laws banning most abortions unless they were necessary to save a woman's life. In both cases, the laws were subsequently overturned by the state's voters at the polls.
Reporting by Michael Avok in Pierre and James B. Kelleher in Chicago; Editing by Peter Bohan