Jewish physicians who perform abortions are not being singled out for attack by anti-abortion extremists, although some anti-abortion literature does contain a frightening amount of anti-Semitic references, spokesmen for abortion groups and Jewish organizations agree.
The concerns about anti-Semitism as a factor in attacks on abortion providers surfaced after Dr. Barnett Slepian, an obstetrician-gynecologist who did abortions, was fatally shot by a sniper in his suburban Buffalo home two weeks ago. The killing occurred shortly after Slepian returned on a Friday night from a synagogue where he had recited Kaddish for his father.
Rewards totaling $300,000 from law-enforcement agencies and medical associations in the United States and Canada have been announced for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Slepian’s killer. A binational task force of police from both countries is investigating the murder, which investigators suspect is linked to similar attacks in Canada.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism joined an ecumenical Washington rally last week in Slepian’s memory, and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations issued a paragraph in his memory to be read in Reform synagogues before Kaddish.
An article last week in the Buffalo News pointed out that four of the five abortion doctors, including Slepian, who were targets of the so-called Remembrance Day sniper in the United States and Canada since 1994, were Jewish.
The moniker comes from the title — Unborn Children Day — that anti-abortion forces in Canada have given to Nov. 11, which is known as Veterans Day in the U.S. and Remembrance Day in Canada.
The shootings of the five physicians took place on or near the date. The other targets: Dr. Garson Romalis, wounded Nov. 8, 1994 in Vancouver; Dr. Hugh Short, shot in the right elbow Nov. 10 1995 in Ancaster, Ontario; an unnamed physician who sustained minor cuts on Oct. 28, 1997; and Dr. John Fainman, struck in the right shoulder Nov. 11, 1997 in Winnipeg. All but Short are Jewish.
“To say that they have been victims because they were Jews is an exaggeration,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “There is no evidence to suggest that anti-Semitism was a motive for the attacks.”
But the ADL was concerned enough about anti-Semitic leanings in some parts of the anti-abortion movement to issue a press release warning that “extreme factions” of the movement “single out Jewish doctors who perform the procedure or describe Jews as controlling the abortion ‘industry.’ ”
The ADL statement cited several examples of comparisons between abortions and the Holocaust, in which Jewish abortion doctors were likened to Nazi war criminals. The statement named in particular Human Life International, “a major anti-abortion group with a history of anti-Semitism, as ‘inordinately preoccupied with Jews.’ ”
“We hope that the good people in the anti-abortion movement will speak out against the anti-Semitism,” Foxman said.
“A number of these [anti-abortion] groups do have this [anti-Semitic strain] running through” their statements, said Maureen Britell, director of government relations for the Washington-based National Abortion Federation.
Echoing Foxman’s statement, Britell said, “We don’t have any evidence that directly links” anti-Semitic statements with physical attacks. “The greatest common denominator with all these physicians is that they all are abortion providers.”
Some anti-abortion literature cites what it calls a disproportionate number of Jewish physicians among abortion providers. This is “an assumption that could be made” because Jews are heavily represented in the pro-choice movement, Britell said.
According to the Hamilton Spectator newspaper, a “wanted poster” for Slepian with the words “Jew” and “killer” written across his photograph was found in the washroom of a Hamilton police station a few days after his killing. Hamilton, in southern Ontario, is about an hour’s drive from Buffalo.
A spokesman for the Buffalo office of the Federal Bureau of Investigations said he was “not prepared to make any correlation” between the targeted abortion doctors’ religious identity and their selection as snipers’ targets. The FBI “is not prepared to guess whether or not nationality played into this,” he said.
“There is a heightened security for doctors” Jewish and non-Jewish “who perform this procedure in this area,” the spokesman said.
Abortion providers in New York are taking special precautions following Slepian’s murder, according to a spokesman for Planned Parenthood of New York City. She and Britell said no unique concern is notable among Jewish physicians.
“Are our doctors nervous? Of course they are,” the Planned Parenthood spokesman said.