Blight To Life

Antiabortion extremists and another murdered doctor

And they don't capture the inner turmoil of Richard Hausknecht, a New York City­based OB-GYN and occasional abortion provider who has spent years speaking out in support of the right to abortion. The local sheriff parked in Hausknecht's upstate driveway all weekend, in an effort to protect the doctor from abortion opponents who might be lurking outside his window. "I really had not given a great deal of thought to the fact that maybe I have been gambling with my life before," Hausknecht told the Voice. "But after this weekend, things are different. Is it going to modify what I do? You bet. If you can be shot inside your own home, then there's no place left to hide."

But if doctors are afraid--and they have every reason to be--some are also redoubling their devotion to the cause of abortion. Dr. Slepian's murder only "makes people more committed," says Vickie Breitbart, board member of the National Abortion Federation. Training to do abortions (which physicians must seek on their own, since it is not routinely provided in medical schools) now includes counseling workshops and group discussions about the violent occupational hazards.

NAF fosters such personal expressions while encouraging trainees to wear bulletproof vests and draw their curtains. But "once they've actually come in and done a series of procedures and seen what abortion means in the day-to-day lives of women, that strengthens their commitment," says Breitbart.

Dr. Barnett Slepian: after 200 death threats, shot by a sniper
AP/ Wide World
Dr. Barnett Slepian: after 200 death threats, shot by a sniper

Dr. Slepian's commitment weathered years of challenges. He endured protests at his clinic, received some 200 death threats, and was endlessly picketed, even at his house on Hanukah. Dr. Slepian tolerated such harassment, as he acknowledged in a letter published in a Buffalo newspaper in '94. "But," he wrote, "please don't feign surprise, dismay or certainly not innocence when a more volatile and less-restrained member of the group decides to react to their inflammatory rhetoric by shooting an abortion provider. They all share the blame."

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