Killing Doctors with Kindness

"Pro-lifers" go warm-and-fuzzy

Sep 1, 1999 at 4:00 am
If I've got this correctly, we who are pro-choice on abortion should be sending a thank-you note to our considerate friends on the "pro-life" side.

It turns out they've decided to look out for our interests, after all.

You may know that the "pro-lifers" in the Missouri Legislature passed an "Infants Protection Act" last May that was vetoed by Gov. Mel Carnahan. A session to consider overriding that veto will be held in two weeks.

What you might not realize, though, is that the "pro-lifers" — who customarily accuse the pro-choice side of advocating the slaughter of the unborn — decided to go warm-and-fuzzy on us at the last minute. It seems they discovered that their latest bill didn't provide clear enough protection for women and their abortion providers.

So, with much warmth and friendship — but, sadly, just a little too late for floor debate — these legislators graciously inserted the following paragraph at the end of their measure:

"Nothing in this section shall be interpreted to exclude the defenses otherwise available to any person under the law including defenses pursuant to chapters 562 and 563, RSMo."

Those chapters, titled "General Principles of Liability" and "Defense of Justification," happen to deal with defenses a person might use to justify having used force — including deadly force — against another individual. Here's one example from these chapters (emphasis added by me):

"A person may not use deadly force upon another person under the circumstances specified in subsection 1 of this section unless he reasonably believes that such deadly force is necessary to protect himself or another against death, serious physical injury, rape, sodomy or kidnaping or serious physical injury through robbery, burglary or arson."

I asked Sam Lee of Campaign Life Missouri, co-author of the bill and one of the most articulate voices in the "pro-life" community, to explain why this reference was there.

"This was provided to make sure there was no question that someone who was charged with a crime would have a defense," Lee told me Tuesday. "It is just to make sure that defenses that are available to any person now would also be available to someone charged with the crime of infanticide."

Lee said the language was added late in the negotiations over the measure, after considerable discussion with the pro-choice side, and that its only beneficiaries would be physicians and women charged with infanticide under the new law.

This is a bit confusing, seeing as how the same bill — three paragraphs higher up — already exempted both physicians and pregnant women from prosecution if the life of the mother was threatened. So why would these people need a "use of force in defense of persons" defense, as provided in Section 563.061?

I don't know. But at the risk of seeming terribly ungrateful for all this concern for women and abortion providers by the "pro-lifers," I have to wonder — as Carnahan did in vetoing the measure — about another possibility:

Wouldn't this provision come in handy as a defense for someone who killed (or otherwise attacked) a doctor or nurse who was planning to perform an abortion that might fall under the bill's newly designated crime of "infanticide"?

There is no disputing that, at the very least, the Infants Protection Act establishes that the rare abortion procedure known as "intact dilation and extraction" is defined as "caus(ing) the death of a living infant." If someone were known to be carrying out such an act of "infanticide" — and someone "reasonably believed" that deadly force was "necessary" to stop it, it seems as if this specific reference to Section 563 RsMo. would be pretty darned helpful to their defense lawyers.

Jackson County Prosecutor Bob Beaird thinks so. Beaird, who was not involved in debate on the bill but reviewed it at Carnahan's request, said, "It's a scary, scary provision."

Carnahan's legal counsel, Joe Bednar, says that in other states, killers of abortion providers have attempted to use the "defense of others" excuse, but they failed because no references existed in the law like the one proposed in the Infants Protection Act.

Nonsense, says Lee, arguing that this is just a "trap" into which he doesn't care to fall. If someone wanted to stop an illegal "infanticide," he said, "the simple remedy would be to call the police." He says this is just an absurd distraction created by Carnahan.

Unfortunately, not all of the bill's advocates are so careful with their moderation. Another of the bill's key co-authors, Louis DeFeo, lobbyist for the Missouri Catholic Conference, told the Associated Press that the provision would be usable by someone stopping a physician — even through the use of deadly force — from performing an illegal abortion.

"I think that's justifiable in protecting a person," DeFeo said. He added, though, that "it's a fairy tale that some kookie guy who is violence-prone could use this defense."

Funny, but I can't find any singling-out of the "violence-prone" in either the Infants Protection Act or the referenced statute on the use of necessary force to protect another person. At the very least, "some kookie guy" would have himself a pretty nice defense argument.

The fairytale is that the "pro-life" side has invested the lion's share of its energy and resources to ban a procedure that has been neither used nor contemplated in the state of Missouri.

The fairytale is that the "pro-life" side is not planting another legislative landmine devised to provoke a court challenge that would put reconsideration of the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision into play. Lee flatly denies this motive, even though the stated strategy of the movement nationally (articulated last May in the National Review) is to use the issue of "partial-birth abortion" for this purpose.

The fairytale is that the bill's intricate definitions of the phrases "living infant," "partially born" and "born" represent an honest attempt to pinpoint the "intact dilation and extraction" procedure and nothing more.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

"This bill can easily be construed to prohibit the safest and most common first-trimester abortions, with no health exception and no provision for rape or incest," Bednar said. "These folks know what they're doing."

That they do. And telling the truth isn't part of the Infants Protection Act.

So thanks for your "defense" of women and their physicians, dear "pro-life" activists.

Thanks for nothing.