The Doctor Killers

By Shapiro, Bruce | The Nation, April 23, 2001 | Go to article overview

The Doctor Killers


Shapiro, Bruce, The Nation


The arrest in France of James Kopp, the accused assassin of Buffalo obstetrician Barnett Slepian, could not have come at a more awkward time for the Bush Administration. Bush inaugurates himself by blocking aid to international family planning agencies and by nominating antiabortion fanatics to run the Justice Department. Then fugitive Kopp surfaces to remind the American public of where these bottom-line commitments lead.

In 1994 Bill Clinton's Justice Department initiated a grand jury inquiry into abortion-clinic violence. But FBI agents grumbled that Justice was wasting their time, and the grand jury folded its tent in January of 1996 after finding no evidence of a national conspiracy. Five years later, it's clear that Kopp--accused in three nonfatal shootings in Canada and the United States in addition to the murder of Dr. Slepian--had a lot of help, the kind of help for which "conspiracy" is the operative legal term.

So far, investigators have arrested two antiabortion felons in Brooklyn--Dennis Malvasi, convicted of a 1987 clinic bombing in Manhattan, and Loretta Marra, who blockaded clinics with Kopp. They sent Kopp money and stayed in touch with him through a Yahoo drop box. The circle is almost certainly wider--and transnational. For the past year Kopp lived in Ireland, bunking in hostels and mingling with the fundamentalist breakaway Catholic sect founded by excommunicated Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Kopp managed to acquire at least two separate Irish identities and passports for himself and a blank Irish passport and birth certificates for his New York friends, and someone in Ireland vouched for his references for an employment agency--all of which makes it obvious that his was not a solo act. Ireland's right-to-life leaders deny any connection to the assassin, and it's entirely possible that his support network was American. In the last half-decade US antiabortion campaigners have moved on Ireland in a big way, introducing a militancy previously unknown there.

Speculation necessarily swirls around the followers of the Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Washington-based Christian Defense Coalition. In March 1999 Mahoney led a brigade of forty Americans to Dublin, where they occupied the offices of the Irish Family Planning Association and taught their Irish counterparts all-American blockade-and-intimidation techniques. Indeed, only a day before Kopp's arrest, Mahoney was slapped with an Irish court injunction prohibiting him from further harassing the IFPA. …

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