LINCOLN — A trio of Nebraska lawmakers expressed skepticism Wednesday about a proposed bill, saying it could allow a self-defense claim for someone who shoots an abortion provider.
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.
Legislative Bill 232 would change state law to state that a person could use deadly force to protect an unborn child.
The bill’s sponsor, Imperial Sen. Mark Christensen, said the proposal was inspired by a Michigan case in which a woman pregnant with quadruplets was charged with manslaughter after stabbing to death an ex-boyfriend who had punched her in the stomach.
Christensen and supporters, including anti-abortion groups Family First, Americans United for Life and the Nebraska Catholic Conference, said the bill was just a natural progression from existing state laws that craft separate offenses for assaulting or murdering an unborn infant.
But opponents of LB 232 said the bill goes much further than allowing a pregnant woman to defend herself and her unborn child, and could lead to violent, unintended consequences.
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.
Christensen said that wasn’t the intent of his bill, but another supporter, Dave Bydalek of Family First, said it appeared that the bill would allow such self-defense claims.
Bydalek said pregnant women should be allowed to protect their unborn children because the rate of assaults and homicide of pregnant women — often by estranged boyfriends — is shockingly high.
But Council and fellow Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop questioned whether a prosecutor would ever refuse to allow a self-defense argument by a pregnant woman who was assaulted. Existing laws already allow a woman to defend herself, the lawmakers said.
“It’s difficult to understand how someone could attack a fetus without attacking the mother,” Lathrop said.
The Judiciary Committee, after a public hearing on the proposal, took no action. But Ashford said it would need dramatic revisions to have a chance of advancing to the full Legislature.
South Dakota lawmakers recently tabled a similar bill because of controversy over possible unintended consequences.
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