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Sunday, May 31, 2009

My Father's Abortion War

Today I thought of this article I read three years ago. My heart goes out to the Tiller family. Thank you Dr. Tiller for your work and your bravery.

Four years later, the deed he warned might happen did. I flew home to Buffalo on the Monday after Slepian's murder. When my father came home that night, I gave him a hug at the door. He put his briefcase down and shook his head; he looked pale, tired, somber. We sat down for dinner, during which he poked at his food distractedly, preoccupied by incredulity and grief: at the sudden loss of a colleague, at the thought of what Slepian's children and wife, whom my father told me he went to see the previous day, were going through.

After dinner we went upstairs. ''Dad, you're not a young man anymore,'' I told him. He nodded. ''You've been through a lot'' -- I paused, trying to think of a subtle way to put it -- ''maybe it's time to leave this part of your practice to some younger doctors.''

There was silence. He cupped his chin in his hands and sighed. Then, looking over in my direction, with weariness but no hint of acquiescence in his eyes, he started telling me about his upbringing in Israel, how he got used to living in a world full of danger and not allowing it to deter him from doing what he felt was right.

''It's wrong, wrong,'' he said.

''What's wrong?''

''To give in to fanatics, to terrorists.''

The very next morning, around 10, as I was talking to my mother, the phone rang. She picked it up.

''Death threat?'' she said. ''Death threat?. . .Excuse me, you'll have to speak with my son.''

Her hand shook as she passed me the phone. It was a detective from the Police Department. He was calling to inform us that a newspaper in Hamilton, Ontario, which days earlier received a package containing a photograph of Slepian with an X drawn through his face, had just received an anonymous threat that my father was ''next on the list.''

The next morning, the story that another doctor had received a death threat was splashed across the front page of The Buffalo News. By week's end, my parents were living under 24-hour protection by federal marshals. Their two-story house in the suburbs was converted into a bunker -- cameras on every corner, the shades drawn, an armed guard out front.

The wave of violence that erupted in the mid-90's did not succeed in extinguishing the entire supply of abortion providers in America. In western New York, Buffalo Womenservices is still operating. A Planned Parenthood clinic in nearby Niagara Falls has been providing abortion services since Dr. Slepian's death. In many cities, including Buffalo, branches of the group Medical Students for Choice have formed to train young physicians to enter the field. As it has throughout the country, the number of abortions performed in the Buffalo area has declined over the past decade, but the reason owes to a host of other factors (fewer overall pregnancies, wider access to birth control, improved sex education) rather than to violence.

By Eyal Press, a writer who lives in New York. This article is adapted from his book, ''Absolute Convictions: My Father, a City and the Conflict That Divided America,'' which will be published by Henry Holt in early March.
The New York Times Magazine, January 22, 2006

1 comment:

SeattleDan said...

And please follow this link ( I can't get the embed right to copy and paste here):