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By Emma Davidson || In their recent response posting on FitsNews titled “Americans United For Life: Domestic Abuse Victims Deserve Legal Protections” Ovide M. Lamontagne has shown the true intention of meddling in South Carolina’s legislative affairs: to deny South Carolina women the right to access legal forms of contraception and fertility treatments.

In S. 527 – the so called “Pregnant Woman’s Protection Act” – the language defines an “unborn child” as “the offspring of human beings from conception until birth.

This is the essence of Fetal Personhood, an anti-woman movement that seeks to outlaw all hormonal contraceptives on the grounds that these forms of birth control may interfere with a woman’s ovulation, may prevent fertilization of a woman’s egg by a sperm, or may prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg in a woman’s uterus. Members of this movement consider any form of hormonal birth control to be the equivalent of an abortion in spite of medical evidence to the contrary. They lobby aggressively in state legislatures, including South Carolina’s General Assembly, and they are behind failed “personhood” ballot initiatives, most recently in Mississippi and Alaska.

Personhood bills give constitutional rights to embryos from the moment of conception, well before a pregnancy has even taken place. These bills are so broad that in addition to outlawing birth control (including Emergency Contraception, even for victims of rape and incest), they would ban most fertility treatments, including In-vitro fertilization since fertilized eggs used in these processes would have full legal rights. These bills would impact literally thousands of laws ranging from when property rights are granted, to inheritance rights, to who can file a lawsuit.

The “Pregnant Woman’s Protection Act” is a template, authored and distributed by Americans United for Life (AUL), a national anti-abortion group. AUL has provided an entire guide to introduce and pass this bill. In fact, it is titled the “Pregnant Woman’s Protection Act: Model Legislation & Policy Guide for the 2014 Legislative Year.”

Bills like the so-called “Pregnant Woman Protection Act” paint a picture of a South Carolina where there is no right to self-defense, which is both untrue and dangerous. South Carolina’s current self-defense laws go further than any other in the nation. Under our current law, any citizen, including women (pregnant or not), who perceives that they are unsafe have no “duty to retreat” before they can use a deadly force to defend himself or herself. These potential victims are immune from criminal prosecution and cannot be arrested unless police have probable cause to believe that they were not acting in self-defense. Current South Carolina law goes even further to immunize anyone using self-defense from all civil suits, including those brought by innocent bystanders.

In fact, American’s United for Life agrees that S. 527 is unnecessary. According to their model legislation packet:

All 50 states permit the use of force in specified circumstances: for self-defense, in the defense of others, and when a person reasonably believes that unlawful force is being used or will imminently be used against him/her or a third person. “Self-defense” and “defense of others” are affirmative defenses raised by a criminal defendant that, if proven true, can provide a complete defense to criminal liability.

With that in mind, it is easy to see that the application of the affirmative defense of “defense of others” to cases where a mother uses force to protect the life of her unborn child is a natural extension of accepted criminal jurisprudence including existing unborn victims of violence protections (i.e., fetal homicide laws and fetal assault laws) that recognize the unborn as a potential victims of criminal violence.

Therefore, there is no need to alter South Carolina’s current “Stand Your Ground” law – unless the true intent of the bill is to do something else. Something like provide a definition of “unborn child” to eliminate access to contraception.

In their April 13, 2014 editorial, editors of The Florence Daily News highlighted this underhanded and devious intention:

This “expansion” is just a repetition on the state’s existing “stand your ground” language. It does zilch to actually strengthen existing anti-violence laws. It does not create additional funding for domestic violence service providers, and it does not increase resources to aid people in violent situations.

What it does do, and this is clearly the impetus for this legislative trickery, is grant personhood to fetuses by defining life at conception. We see this as nothing more than another step in the larger, strategic initiative on the part of some lawmakers to chip away at Roe v. Wade.

If the sponsors of S. 527 and Americans United For Life were truly concerned about protecting victims of domestic violence in this state, then they would introduce legislation that increased funding to rape crisis centers, domestic abuse hotlines, and providing training to law enforcement officials, primary care physicians, teachers and others on how to identify abuse and violence before it escalates. It is hypocritical to introduce legislation claiming to protect victims of domestic abuse, rape and violence while simultaneously outlawing emergency contraception, a key treatment option for those victims. Clearly these lawmakers have decided that they can win more votes by re-introducing a right that already exists for all South Carolina citizens than by actually protecting women and minorities.

As the editors of The Florence Daily News put it, “it’s nothing new. Legislatures across the country have differing interpretations of Roe v. Wade. But to back-door the message under the guise of protecting women is wrong.”

Emma Davidson

Emma Davidson is associate director for strategic mobilization for the New Morning Foundation, a group which supports “age-appropriate, medically accurate health education and increased access to high-quality reproductive health counseling and services.”