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South Dakota Justifiable Homicide Bill Under Fire as Critics Say It Invites Murder of Abortion Doctors

Proponents and opponents of abortion rights argue in front of the Supreme Court during the March for Life Jan. 24, 2011, in Washington. Getty Images

Updated at 7:45 p.m. ET

A bill scheduled for debate on the floor of the South Dakota House of Representatives Wednesday has been labeled by a group representing abortion clinics as "an invitation to murder abortion providers."

House Bill 1171 would expand the legal definition of justifiable homicide in the state. Critics said the measure legalizes the killing of abortion providers by saying a homicide is permissible if committed by a person "while resisting an attempt to harm" an unborn fetus.

"The bill introduced in South Dakota is an invitation to murder abortion providers," Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, the professional association of abortion providers, told CBS Radio News Tuesday. "It would actually legalize murder."

The bill's sponsor, state Rep. Phil Jensen, defended the proposed legislation by telling the Reuters news agency Tuesday that the bill would prevent prosecutors from trying to convict people who use lethal force to protect their pregnant family members from attackers.

"Let's say an ex-boyfriend finds out his ex-girlfriend is pregnant with his baby and decides to beat on her abdomen to kill the unborn child," Jensen told Reuters. "This is an illegal act and the purpose of this bill is to bring continuity to South Dakota code as it relates to the unborn child."

The Associated Press reported that the measure originally would have allowed pregnant women to use force to protect their unborn children. A House committee expanded the bill to include allowing other relatives to use force, including a pregnant woman's father, mother, son, daughter or husband.

Jensen told Reuters that he expected critics of the bill to try and amend the measure during the floor debate. Debate was scheduled to begin Tuesday, but the House delayed it until Wednesday, the AP reported early Tuesday evening.

South Dakota enacted laws in 2006 and 2008 banning most abortions unless they put a woman's life at risk. Voters overturned both laws at the polls.