'Pro-lifers' murder again

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'Pro-lifers' murder again

By Barry Sheppard

Dr Barnett Slepian was shot and killed by a sniper using a high-powered rifle on the evening of October 23, as he stood in his kitchen with his wife and one of their sons. Dr Slepian provided abortion and other gynaecological services in a clinic in a working-class area of Buffalo, New York, near the Canadian border.

Four other abortion providers have been shot in similar attacks in the area since 1994, each within a few weeks of Remembrance Day, November 11, which has been adopted by some Canadian "pro-lifers" as a symbol of their cause. Fortunately, those four doctors survived the attacks.

Slepian is the eighth person murdered by anti-abortion extremists in the US since 1993.

The director of the clinic, Marilynn Buckham, vowed to keep it open, and said she has received calls from doctors around the country volunteering their services.

The federal government has dispatched US marshals to protect the clinic and the doctors who plan to fill in for Dr Slepian. Local authorities were nowhere to be seen as the clinic reopened.

The New York Times reported from Buffalo that the sniper attack had "left many women here, most of them poor or working class, expressing outrage that a bullet had deprived them at least temporarily of one of the few options they had to end unwanted or unhealthy pregnancy. The clinic is the only one left in Buffalo, New York state's second largest city, that specializes in abortion.

"The anger could be seen in people like Karen Jones, 25, who dropped off a friend at the clinic this morning, only to be accosted by anti-abortion protesters who screamed, 'Be strong'! and 'Save the baby'!

"'It's none of their business if someone wants to have an abortion', she said, nervously taking a drag from a cigarette as she sat in her car, awaiting her friend. 'Are they going to be around to help raise the baby? No they won't. This decision is between a woman and her God' ...

"As for the women who live in this poor end of town, Dr. Slepian's death stirred not only sadness but also practical concerns about what they will do should they or their daughters become pregnant."

Sharon Ashley, 43, recalled that a young woman showed up at the clinic about a year ago, only to be confronted by the foetus freaks, who convinced her to have the baby. In the end, the young woman was so unprepared to be a mother that the child welfare authorities took the child away.

She added, "Dr. Slepian helped a lot of people. Women around here don't have many options now. I think what you are going to see is young girls trying to give themselves abortions. It's like we're going back to the old days."

Nancy Roseboro, 31, remembers showing up at the clinic as a young girl to get an abortion. As far as she is concerned, Dr. Slepian gave her a second chance.

"If I had had that child, I'd be stuck on welfare or something. I was a child. I couldn't take care of my own self. How could I take care of a child?"

Betty Hodlen sees the issue in terms of class and race. More affluent women, she says, can go to private doctors. Poor women like herself have had to rely on people like Dr Slepian.

Leaders of "pro-life" organisations made pro-forma statements distancing themselves from the murder. But the tactics and rhetoric they use prepare the way for their more extreme members to turn to violence.

One group keeps a site on the internet with the names of doctors and others who are to be targeted. Dr Slepian was targeted for over a decade, and received more than 200 death threats.

By loudly proclaiming abortion to be "murder", these groups prepare the moral ground for the more extreme to justify to themselves committing murder.

Dr Pablo Rodriguez, an abortion provider, wrote a piece in the New York Times after Dr Slepian's death, detailing the harassment he has undergone. Every morning, as he dresses for work, his wife reminds him to put on his bullet-proof vest.

"Dr. Slepian has become the [eighth] person in the United States to be killed for the sake of 'life'", he said. "This can no longer be seen as some kind of aberration or as random incidents caused by sick individuals. We are in the midst of an epidemic of violence against providers and patients at reproductive health clinics. There are manuals and training camps for the zealots who promote violence and use fear as their main weapon."

Dr Rodriguez outlined what happened after the anti-abortion people targeted him:

"In the beginning, the harassment consisted of just nasty letters and graphic pictures of dismembered fetuses. Then I began receiving strange packages with dolls inside, as well as subscriptions to gun magazines and advertisements for hunting lodges showing pictures of dead animals hanging by their limbs.

"Then the 'Wanted' posters with my picture on them began to appear; the first one was taped to the front door of the clinic for my patients to see. Copies were sent to my wife at home and to my other office. Then the doors and locks to our clinic were glued several times, and protesters blockaded the clinic three times. During one of the invasions the police didn't arrest anyone, and when charges were finally brought, the fines were minimal and no jail sentences were given."

Nails were cleverly placed under snow in his driveway, to give him flat tires. His wife found out about them by stepping on one. His children could have been hurt running in the driveway.

"The following week I received a bill for an insurance policy on my wife's life." Someone had filled out a fraudulent application.

"Next I received an identification card in the mail for a catastrophic health and dismemberment policy that would cover my medical costs in case such circumstances should arise. My experiences are not unique. Other providers around the country and in Canada have been through similar episodes, and worse. Clinics have been bombed, burned and shot at; patients and staff members have been traumatized, all in the name of 'life'.

"The results are obvious. Abortion may remain legal in this country, but there will soon be so few providers that access will become limited and in some cases unavailable".

It is but a small move from sending death threats to committing murder. The intent of the terrorists is to force clinics to close and to force doctors not to provide abortions.

Only 12% of people studying to become gynaecologists in the US are taught how to do abortions: many institutions fear they too will be targeted.