Editor’s note: Did James Kopp really kill abortion doctor Barnett Slepian? That’s the question author and producer Jack Cashill probes in his comprehensive, seven-part exclusive series for WND. Cashill puts a microscope to the actions of federal and local law enforcement agencies and analyzes how political considerations of the Clinton administration affected the murder investigation. He also examines the evidence in the case and raises insightful questions about how and when it was gathered.
In Part 4 of his report, Cashill relays intriguing information about how Slepian began to talk with, and even seek out, pro-life activists.
Cashill begins by comparing Slepian to famed abortion doctor-turned-pro-lifer Bernard Nathanson.
Dr. Bernard Nathanson first encountered what he would later call “the satanic world of abortion” when, as a young man, he persuaded a pregnant girlfriend to abort their unborn child. In time, he became an abortion doctor himself and would personally abort an unborn child of his own.
“I have aborted the unborn children of my friends, my colleagues, casual acquaintances, even my teachers,” he would write in his book “The Hand of God.” “There was never a shred of self-doubt, never a wavering of the supreme self-confidence that I was doing a major service to those who sought me out.”
Before the courts discovered abortion rights in the Constitution, back when states still had the ability to make their own abortion law, New York had legalized the practice. In New York City, Nathanson created the largest abortion clinic in the world and in 1968 founded NARAL, the National Abortion Rights Action League. It was the introduction of ultrasound in the 1970s, with its vivid imagery of the unborn sucking their thumbs and doing other human acts, that turned Nathanson against the industry that he had helped pioneer. In 1984, he premiered “The Silent Scream,” a documentary that showed an ultrasound of a child being aborted. That a cofounder of NARAL could provide such graphic ammunition to the pro-life movement sent shock waves throughout the abortion industry. Nathanson had gone over to the enemy.
Despite abandoning the practice, Nathanson’s personal life was still a wreck. He would marry and divorce three times, fail at fatherhood and contemplate suicide. It was only in encountering an Operation Rescue protest at a Planned Parenthood clinic in New York that he “apprehended the exaltation, the pure love on the faces of that shivering mass of people.” This encounter started Nathanson, a non-practicing Jew, on a long spiritual and intellectual journey that culminated in his conversion to Catholicism. The conversion doubly offended his former allies on the leftward fringes of the pro-choice movement, where anti-Catholicism is so untempered that activists proudly display their animus – e.g., “Keep your Rosaries off my ovaries” – on their T-shirts.
Dr. Barnett Slepian had not moved nearly as far as Nathanson, but it was clear that he was troubled and searching. Indeed, in many ways, he fit the classic stereotype of the abortion doctor. A mediocre student, Slepian attended a local community college before transferring to the University of Denver. There he majored in zoology but could not get into an American medical school. “They all rejected me,” he would tell his father. Slepian studied medicine for a year in Belgium but could not cut it there either. He finally enrolled at the Autonomous University for Medicine in Guadalajara, Mexico, and after several stops and starts secured his degree. The University of Buffalo was the only place that would accept him for a residency. As fate would have it, Buffalo’s OB-GYN program was one of the few to offer abortion training.
The practice tends to attract doctors with backgrounds like Slepian’s. It takes no great talent and is held in such low esteem within the medical community that doctors with other options tend to avoid it.
“[Abortion] is the dirty work of our field,” an openly pro-choice obstetrician told The New York Times earlier in the year that Slepian was killed. “The sad truth is that the people who moonlight at the clinics are grade-B doctors.”
Within a year of his arrival in Buffalo, Slepian would boast “that he could do an abortion in the time it took Billy Joel to sing a song.” As Slepian quickly realized, a swift and skilled abortionist could make a pretty decent living under the euphemistic rubric of “comprehensive women’s health-care provider.” He could “take out 15 an hour,” Slepian told niece Amanda Robb, who, despite her pro-choice views, worried that Slepian sounded too much “like a boy who thins deer populations.”
The New York Times would write after his death in praise of the man that “Slepian worked 15 to 24 hours a week performing abortions for largely poor and low-wage clients.” What they did not say was that the state was paying Slepian on a per capita basis and that he was amassing a small fortune in the process. Understandably, a Times’ article headlined “Slain Physician Eulogized as Caring Man” would not speak of what Slepian’s niece called his “beyond-conspicuous consumption” or of his deep and growing cynicism about the people he served.
“The biggest problem in this country,” Slepian told Robb in the year before his death, “is that there are too many poor people vegetating and too many old people vegetating.” In a darkly ironic moment, he asked his niece to nominate him for surgeon general: “My platform will be pro-abortion and pro-euthanasia.”
What troubled Slepian most about his job – and he would speak of these people often and contemptuously – were the women who had come to him for their fourth or fifth abortions. When Robb asked Slepian why he continued to abort their unborn children, he answered that “it’s the American thing to do.” He described the process “as American as supply and demand … part and parcel of keeping the minority quotient manageable.”
“Then you see yourself helping to proliferate the American dream?” Robb asked as she helped him write a speech.
“I am the g–d— American dream,” he answered.
When Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie asked his fellow rabbis across America to eulogize Slepian as “a compassionate physician, a devoted husband and father, a committed Jew and a man of moral conviction and courage,” he could not have known the man he was eulogizing.
Yet for all his anger and cynicism, Slepian had begun to show another side of himself to his antagonists. As the most outspoken of Buffalo’s abortion providers, Slepian was under almost continuous pressure from the persistent pro-life forces in the Buffalo area. They served as something of a Greek chorus for the man, never letting him forget, often bluntly, how it was that he made his living.
Historically, Slepian had responded to the protesters with taunts, curses and obscene gestures. On one well-documented occasion, the small, slim doctor attacked a group of protesters with a baseball bat, injuring, if not breaking, one man’s wrist and smashing out the window of a car. Although he denied he had hurt anyone, the town judge ordered him to repair one protester’s smashed van window and pay a portion of another’s medical bills.
Slepian deeply resented these visits to his home, a practice that went under the ironic euphemism, “house calls.” Bob Behn, executive director of Last Call Ministries, relates that about two years before his death, Slepian intercepted a small group of house callers as they convened at the parking lot of a nearby drug store. Slepian pulled up abruptly in his car and, as Behn relates, “just went off.” When he began to exhaust his profanity-laced tirade, Behn asked if they could talk, and Slepian “went off again.” Finally, though, Slepian relented and agreed to meet Behn for breakfast. “I felt the Lord there,” says Behn of the parking lot confrontation.
The New York Times had a different take on this encounter. “He surprised a gathering of protesters,” wrote reporter Susan Sachs, “and invited the protest’s organizer, the Rev. Robert L. Behn, to breakfast.” Although Sachs acknowledges that Slepian did change his tone towards the protesters afterwards, she argues that it was a strategic move on Slepian’s part, designed to “cut through the venom.”
From the perspective of the major media, the “venom” in this debate almost inevitably flows from the pro-life side. With the parking lot incident, however, Sachs had no other source but the pro-lifers. To make the facts fit the ongoing Times story line, she ignored Behn’s convincing detail of Slepian’s rage and transformed the volatile doctor into a willful peacemaker. Unfortunately, such contrived reporting has become normative among the major media.
What is undeniable is that after the incident Behn and Slepian met one-on-one for nearly two hours. Behn acknowledges that when asked, Slepian argued that he was “OK spiritually.” But when Behn asked him why he persisted in his abortion practice, Slepian grew highly agitated and answered, “These women make me do them,” wording that Behn could not forget. So disturbed was Slepian that Behn chose not to ask who those women were.
Slepian’s behavior toward the protesters changed after that breakfast. As Behn related, “Instead of cursing or throwing the finger, he would stop and talk to us.” Slepian even asked one woman, “How do you become saved?”
Clinic protester Eva Boldt told Life Dynamics that Slepian’s attitude toward her was far more respectful than it had been in the past and that he had actually sought her out to talk. She and another pro-life activist, Amy Ashbery, claimed that their conversations had become so prolonged and amiable that clinic escorts actually began to tell Slepian to “move along” when so engaged.
Says Behn, “His co-workers were not thrilled by his change in attitude.” Sachs attributes their discomfort to the fact that they “feared for his safety.” The protesters believe, however, that his colleagues feared for something that, to them, was of greater consequence – Slepian’s loyalty to the cause.
Tomorrow: “Jumbled dates, planted evidence?”
Read Part 1, “Abortion politics meet law enforcement”
Read Part 2, “James Kopp ‘like a priest'”
Read Part 3, “Leftists involved in abortionist’s death?”
Jack Cashill is an Emmy-award winning independent writer and producer with a Ph.D. in American Studies from Purdue.