All sides must oppose anti-abortion violence

A little more than two weeks ago someone, presumably an abortion opponent, shot Dr. Barnett Slepian in his home. This action is troubling not only at face value, but also on a more subtle level, illustrating the extent to which terror has diminished the ability of women to get abortions in the United States. Twenty-five years ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that abortion was legal. However, the legality of abortion means nothing if no one is willing to provide them. Everyone — abortion supporters, opponents and law enforcement officials — has a responsibility to take a stand against these terrorist tactics.
By all accounts Slepian was a good man. While he did not enjoy performing abortions, he thought that they were a necessary part of performing his job at a women’s clinic in Buffalo, N.Y. For performing that job, he was killed. Slepian is not the only casualty of the abortion debate, and not only doctors have died. Among the dead and injured are an Alabama police officer who was literally blown up while guarding a Birmingham clinic and women who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Countless others have been terrorized. The opponents of abortion have created an environment of almost constant fear. Both women who want abortions and those who provide abortions have been targeted. Protesters who violently block the entrances to clinics, harass women trying to enter and, in general, make an already harsh situation an even more difficult ordeal. For the doctors, the knowledge that the death threats they receive are serious has meant that many are simply unwilling to continue to provide abortions.
Some feel that abortion is wrong and should be banned. That opinion is certainly a legitimate one. Activists who lobby Congress and peacefully try to persuade others that their point of view is correct are not doing anything that should be condemned. The problem arises when the rational opponents of abortion do not speak up against their extremist cohorts whose methods include distributing pamphlets that encourage people to maim or kill abortion providers. When Internet Web pages list doctors’ home addresses and phone numbers dripping in digital blood, sane abortion opponents should voice their disapproval. If they do not, their silence gives the appearance of approval.
Abortion is legal in the United States. While many may oppose the right to an abortion, the Supreme Court has ruled that it is constitutional. So long as that ruling stands, it is the duty of our police officers and other security forces to ensure that women who want abortions have the ability to get them without being subjected to physical harassment and intimidation. They have the duty to ensure that doctors who perform abortions need not fear for their lives. They have the duty to ensure that the abortion opponents’ freedom of speech doesn’t interfere with a woman’s freedom of movement into an abortion clinic.
Local, state and federal officials have sworn to uphold the laws of the United States. They need to keep that promise when it comes to abortion. Abortion opponents have a responsibility to protest peacefully within the confines of the law. The question of the legality of abortion is quickly losing its importance, and it will not matter that abortion is legal if no woman has access to one.