A terrorist act in a N.Y. back yard Physician's slaying: Attacks like the one against abortion provider can only be stopped by public outcry.

October 28, 1998

DR. BARNETT A. Slepian was the kind of physician who made house calls and took a lot of time and care with patients, including sharing doughnuts and coffee with them.

Though he was a doctor who performed abortions -- for which he was killed in a sniper attack Friday -- he suggested alternatives such as adoption to his patients.

His assassination threatens abortion services for poor women in Buffalo, N.Y. He was the only physician at the inner city's last reproductive health clinic.

His death typifies a continuing reign of terror against abortion clinic workers nationwide. In the past five years, four sniper assaults have targeted physicians in western New York. His was the first fatality.

Seven people, three of them doctors, have been killed in the country in attacks on abortion service providers during that period.

The most notorious incident was the January bombing in Birmingham, Ala., that left one clinic worker dead. A manhunt continues in the mountains of western North Carolina for the suspect, Eric Rudolph, who is also wanted in the bombing of another clinic and at the Olympics in Atlanta two years ago.

Dr. Slepian worked under sustained pressure from abortion opponents. A feisty and stubborn man, he defied them and fought back aggressively. He was once arrested after confronting protesters outside his home on Hanukkah.

He felt strongly that poor women deserved access to abortions, and he was determined to provide them. On the morning of the attack, police warned him about a threatening fax sent to the department the day before. Dr. Slepian was advised to "close the drapes of your house so you are not visible from the outside." Officers provided limited surveillance of the family's home.

Dr. Slepian presaged his fate in a 1994 letter to the Buffalo News complaining of increasingly militant protesters: "Please don't feign surprise, dismay and certainly not innocence when a more violent and less-restrained member of the group decides to react by shooting an abortion provider."

The actions of a few extreme abortion opponents are reminiscent of the campaign of terror by Ku Klux Klansmen earlier in the century. Besides giving those who protest legally and nonviolently a bad name, the haters, bombers and killers present all of us with a challenge.

A combination of strong civil rights organizations and persistent vigilance and resistance by law-abiding and angry Americans changed the climate and the laws so that kind of behavior by the Klan was not tolerated.

It will take that same combination to combat those who attack people involved in a constitutionally protected activity.

That responsible anti-abortion groups have denounced acts of violence by the irresponsible few is a start. Even that strong resolve sadly may not prevent someone with a gun or a bomb from attempting heinous crimes in the name of higher righteousness. But we should do all within our power to not accept taking life to "protect" it.

Pub Date: 10/28/98

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