October 23

This Day in History

Crime

Oct 23, 1998:

An abortion-performing doctor is murdered

Doctor Barnett Slepian is shot to death inside his home in Amherst, New York, by an anti-abortion radical, marking the fifth straight year that a doctor who was willing to perform abortions in upstate New York and Canada had been the victim of a sniper attack. Slepian and his family had just returned from religious services at their synagogue when a bullet shattered the kitchen window and struck him in the back. Each of the five attacks, the first four of which did not result in fatal wounds, occurred in late October or early November. It is believed that the dates were intentionally picked to center around Canada's Remembrance Day (November 11).

Investigators in both Canada and the United States believe that James Charles Kopp, known among abortion opponents as "Atomic Dog," was responsible for Slepian's murder. Although he had been seen in the vicinity of Slepian's home in the weeks before the killing, Kopp, a member of the terrorist group Army of God, was nowhere to be found after the incident.

In the aftermath of Slepian's murder, at least four abortion doctors in upstate New York quit practicing, and countless other clinic staff members left their jobs. Because groups such as the American Coalition of Life Activists have openly promoted violence against abortion providers, there is some reason to believe that the atmosphere of fear has limited women's ability to choose abortion in certain areas of the nation.

Following Slepian's murder, a serious crackdown on anti-abortion terror helped to cut down the number of violent incidents. In 1999, for the first time in six years, there were no sniper attacks against any doctors during the course of the year. As the 20th century came to an end, Kopp remained at large, despite a $500,000 reward for information leading to his capture from the Justice Department and his place on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List. In March 2001, the authorities caught up with Kopp in Europe, and he was extradited from France on the condition he would not receive the death penalty. On May 9, 2003, he was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

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