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HJR 5003: Let Voters Decide If Human Life Begins at Fertilization

How would you like to vote on the meaning of life in November?

Gubernatorial candidate and Representative Steven Haugaard (R-10/Sioux Falls) wanted to throw us that philosophical party with House Joint Resolution 5003, a constitutional amendment that would declare human life begins at fertilization.

Haugaard’s original text sought to put before the voters this definition of “human being”:

The term, human being, means each member of the species homo sapiens, at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization or cloning, or other moment at which a member of the species comes into being [HJR 5003, original language, filed 2022.02.02].

Haugaard seeks this vote not to respect life but to disrespect women, to provide a constitutional foothold for subordinating pregnant women’s autonomy to the perceived “rights” of a fertilized clump of cells and uniting the state with that clump of cells in demanding women’s bodily service.

House State Affairs took up HJR 5003 on Wednesday, February 16. The committee had just granted Haugaard’s request to table his House Bill 1326, an absolute ban on abortion. Taking the legalistic position that stymied Governor Kristi Noem’s copycat Texas abortion proposal, Haugaard and the committee worried that new legislation moving South Dakota toward a complete abortion ban could monkeywrench the state’s courtroom defense of its current already draconian abortion restrictions. Such fretful legalism did not stop House Health and Human Services yesterday from narrowly advancing Haugaard’s House Bill 1208, a total ban on mifepristone and other abortion drugs. Nor did that legal chess deter Haugaard from advocating that we let voters decide whether human life and rights begin the moment sperm meets egg.

Super-lobbyist Justin Bell spoke on behalf of the South Dakota State Medical Association against HJR 5003. Bell opened by making explicit SDSMA’s fence-sitting on whether abortion should be legal. He said HJR 5003 was problematic because it spoke of human life beginning at fertilization, not conception, would complicate birth control, in vitro fertilization, and miscarriage management by subjecting health care providers to potential Class A and B felony charges. He said the Supreme Court come June could completely change the constitutional landscape for debating abortion and the definition of human life and suggested it would be better to wait for that ruling and then maybe hold a Special Session to propose new legislation.

Lobbyist A. Jason Rumpca spoke against HJR 5003 on behalf of the South Dakota Section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Rumpca said the effect of HJR 5003 would be unclear, but doctors fear the application of this definition would “open a Pandora’s box of unintended consequences that would unnecessarily complicate and negatively impact their ability to practice medicine in South Dakota.” Rumpca seconded the SDSMA’s concerns that in vitro fertilization would be complicated.

Haugaard rebutted that IVF is based on the idea that we can create life and then dispose of it “if that’s not the ones you want.” Evidently he’d be fine with granting human status to every fertilized egg in every test tube and obligate… someone—the woman who donated the eggs? the men who provided the sperm? the hospital? the community?—to gestate and raise those embryos.

Haugaard’s absolutism is radical and uncompromising. His colleagues aren’t quite so boldly disruptive. Haugaard’s fellow misogynist lawyer Representative Jon Hansen (R-25/Dell Rapids) reworded the amendment:

The term, human being, means an individual living member of the species of Homo sapiens, including the unborn human being during the entire embryonic and fetal ages from fertilization to full gestation [HJR 5003, as amended by House State Affairs, 2022.02.16].

Hansen said he takes his definition from existing statute [see SDCL 34-23A-1(4)]. He said this definition has survived judicial scrutiny at the Eighth Circuit. Hansen did not say anything else. Hansen left unaddressed whether this judicially tested definition would lead to the total shutdown of in vitro fertilization that Haugaard would apparently embrace.

House State Affairs is apparently committed to leaving this weighty debate entirely to the voters. Without any comment from other members, the committee approved Hansen’s amendment and then approved HJR 5003 as amended on an 8–4 vote. Republicans Hansen, Wiese, Gosch, Goodwin, Beal, Chaffee, Chris Johnson, and Kevin Jensen voted aye, Democrats Smith and Lesmeister and Republicans Anderson and Kent Peterson voted nay. Rep. Rebecca Reimer missed this vote.

HJR 5003 heads to the House floor next week either Tuesday or Wednesday. Wednesday is Crossover Day, the deadline for all joint resolutions and bills to pass their chambers of origin.


  1. sx123 2022-02-18 08:22

    Life doesn’t begin at fertilization or conceptuon, it was already there.

    Once sperm enters egg. It takes a several days for DNA to get arranged and only a handful of genes are even active, so tough to argue that at the moment of fertilization it’s a human.

    I drew up plans and gathered boards, nails, and plywood together. Is it a doghouse at this point?

  2. Ska Sunka 2022-02-18 08:52

    I can’t see the Pischke wing of the Republican party supporting this idea. All they will see is the potential for the burden of child support payments. And they can’t have that now, can they?

  3. buckobear 2022-02-18 09:15

    OK, go down to State Farm and get a life insurance policy on the zygote.

  4. sx123 2022-02-18 09:25

    Good point buckobear. Insurance companies would go broke within seconds if this was allowed.

  5. Richard Schriever 2022-02-18 10:16

    Next logical steps are guaranteeing every egg’s “right” (obligation) to be fertilized, and every sperm’s “right” (obligation) to be sent scurrying toward an egg.

  6. mike from iowa 2022-02-18 10:26

    A fetus is viable @ 24 weeks of life and until science proves otherwise, magats can go blank themselves. magats aren’t interested in protecting a fetus, they are concerned about satiating their base’s lust to control women and getting re-elected so they can do more harm.

  7. Eve Fisher 2022-02-18 10:31

    Besides mandating insurance for zygotes, I can hardly wait for someone to tell Tom Pischke how this bill will make it mandatory for all fathers to begin child support payments as soon as fertilization occurs.
    “Every sperm is sacred, Every sperm is great. When a sperm gets wasted, God gets quite irate!”

  8. O 2022-02-18 10:32

    One of the practical complications of the post-six-week abortion ban is that many women do not know they are pregnant within that time frame. Now multiply that to the nth degree. Having legal consequences now kick in at the moment of conception/fertilization seems a philosophical — not practical — consideration; however legal ramifications would be real — not philosophical.

    I have not seen the raft of legislation to make the needed changes to support this mandate: where is the bill to give free prenatal care to the expecting mother and child? Where is the state allocation for the delivery of the child? Ever-red SD is keenly aware of the abhorrence of an unfunded mandate and the freedom denied by the state limiting the economic choices of individuals.

    Wouldn’t it be ironic of the very same legislators who are advocating this more aggressive life definition were also the legislators undermining the budgets for essential social services these “protected” children will need growing up in SD?

    Abortions are caused by unwanted pregnancies. Address the social decline of SD that fosters that reality.

  9. larry kurtz 2022-02-18 10:39

    Anyone who believes South Dakota’s Koch-owned legislature would honor the wishes of voters is delusional. Any gesture at a ballot measure is sleight of foot kicking the reproductive rights can down the road.

  10. bearcreekbat 2022-02-18 11:35

    So this would also change how we determine a person’s age, which presumably starts when a person becomes a legal “human being.” In turn, we would have to monitor the exact sexual activity of people to assure that we could pinpoint the exact moment of conception. And that seems the most interesting aspect of this idea, a requirement that every individual of child bearing age would be required to send in regular (daily, weekly or perhaps monthly) reports of when and with whom they engage in sex. And since accidents happen and people can become pregnant despite using birth control methodsm, or having sex below or beyond normal child bearing age, there would be no exclusions on the reporting requirements.

  11. Mark Anderson 2022-02-18 19:46

    It’s OK, it will be fun to see how many businesses streak to red states when they are through banning women’s rights.

  12. DaveFN 2022-02-18 20:04

    Rep. Haugaard is certainly forward-looking in his inclusion of cloning, considering that a human being has never been cloned. And considering that fundamentalists maintain that life begins at fertilization which is a sexual process (“the two shall become one”) cloning is asexual. An entire geranium or African violet plant can grow by asexual reproduction from a single leaf cutting when stem tissue cells undergo dedifferentiation to form roots, and their new leaves can do the same ad infinitum. And I hope there is no destruction of HeLa cells going on in hospitals and laboratories around the country or Henrietta Lacks is being destroyed without her consent, not that she ever gave consent in the first place for her asexually propagated cells to be immortalized and which constitute one of the most important cell lines in medical research.

    Guess Haugaard wants to cover all bases, be they sexual and asexual reproduction, or he’s just plain ignorant.

    But, in the interest of being pedantic: modern humans are the only surviving species of Homo sapiens, and we are properly Homo sapiens sapiens. If Rep. Hansen wants to be inclusive and take into account the future cloning of extinct Homo sapiens neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens idàltu, or the future evolution of our own kind into new subspecies by being so inclusive, he’s even more forward-looking than Rep. Haugaard.

  13. jakc 2022-02-18 21:21

    if you think life begins at fertilization, then try to fertilize a dead egg with a dead sperm. It doesn’t matter if you think life evolved billions of years ago or if you think it started with Adam and Eve. You’ve been alive continuously, in some form, sinve then

  14. Mark Anderson 2022-02-20 17:29

    The reason he didn’t place it earlier is that it would have made his girlfriend a cannibal.

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