Book Club: Sniper – The True Story of Anti-Abortion Killer James Kopp

Nineteen years ago today, at his home in Amherst, New York, returning from synagogue after a memorial service for his father, gynecologist Barnett Slepian, his wife, and their sons were preparing a late supper. He started heating soup in his microwave oven, then left the room. Seconds after his return, he stood, silhouetted by the blue light of the microwave, as a soft-tipped bullet left a high-powered SKS rifle from a wooded area 36 yards away, traveled through a sunroom window, and ripped through the doctor’s back, spinal cord, ribs, aorta, and lungs. He bled out within seconds. One son barely missed injury from the single ricocheting bullet.

The shooter escaped.


“… no civilized society can tolerate or excuse excesses that are tantamount to anarchy or to terrorism.” –Judge Michael D’Amico at sentencing of sniper James Kopp


In this true-crime book, Sniper: The True Story of Anti-Abortion Killer James Kopp, journalist and author Jon Wells takes the reader through the ensuing 29-month international effort to identify and capture James Kopp in France, extradite him, and try him for murder. Today, Kopp is incarcerated for life, was convicted of additional federal charges, and is suspected of shooting four other abortion providers in the U.S. and Canada, wounding them severely.

What can we learn from this book? I’ve selected passages from the book to highlight the important messages.

Why Kopp selected Dr. Slepian as his (allegedly) fifth target, among numerous obstetricians who provided abortion care in New York and Canada.
Continue reading

Book Club: Living in the Crosshairs

CrosshairsLiving in the Crosshairs is an important and terrifying book that was published last year by Oxford University Press. Its authors are David S. Cohen, a law professor at Drexel University who also sits on the boards of the Women’s Law Project and the Abortion Care Network, and Krysten Connon, who graduated from Drexel Law School in 2012, and is now an attorney in Philadelphia. In it, they look at targeted harassment of abortion providers. This is different from the protests we may think of outside abortion clinics, which are aimed at the clinic, or the women seeking abortions, or the issue in general. Targeted threats and attacks are aimed at individuals who work in the clinics. They are personal.

The title comes from a story of one provider’s dealings with the legal authorities. He describes one protest at the clinic where he works, where:

… a new sign displayed Paul’s picture in crosshairs. “I was just shocked that that was legal. I just can’t see how that’s fair.” Paul contacted the FBI about the targeted protest, particularly in light of the sign with the crosshairs. “They said it’s perfectly legal. The protesters could do that, and they could do worse.”

This incident shows the way abortion providers are targeted, literally and figuratively, by anti-abortion activists, and is a representative example of the stories told by the people interviewed for this report. In all, 87 providers were contacted, and 82 of them agreed to be interviewed at length. The authors included doctors, administrators, and other medical and non-medical staff who work where abortions are performed. Non-medical staff are also targets; as the authors point out, of eight providers murdered by anti-abortion killers, four were doctors; the others included two receptionists, a security guard, and a volunteer escort. And more recently, we’ve seen in Colorado Springs that people unrelated to a clinic can also be killed in anti-abortion violence. The danger is great; almost all of those interviewed chose to use false names, and to have details that could identify them changed as well. Continue reading

Movie Night: After Tiller

After Tiller is an award-winning documentary film that takes us inside the lives of the remaining four doctors who were openly providing third-trimester abortions in the United States after the 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller, a staunch defender and provider of those abortions. The 88-minute film, released in 2013, seeks to shed light, rather than more heat, and move beyond the national shouting match about abortion later in pregnancy.

You can see the trailer here:

Is this film for you? Probably, if you ponder the following:

  1. Why would a pregnant woman wait so late into a pregnancy to decide to have an abortion?
  2. Why would a woman who loves her unborn baby have a late abortion?
  3. After 24 weeks’ gestation, should abortion (always, sometimes, never) be illegal?
  4. What kind of people provide third-trimester abortions?
  5. Do third-trimester abortions differ much from premature, natural childbirth?

Continue reading

Book Club: Pro – Reclaiming Abortion Rights

Pro PollittPro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Katha Pollitt, prize-winning author, poet, essayist, and columnist for The Nation, is a book for people who are in the “muddled middle” of the abortion debate. YOU are a member of this group — more than half of Americans — if you do not want to ban abortion, exactly, but don’t want it to be widely available, either.

Pollitt argues that “muddlers” are clinging to an illogical and ultimately untenable position and need to sit down and examine their reasoning carefully. She does so in a witty, engaging manner, taking us through 218 pages in the following six chapters:

RECLAIMING ABORTION. Pollitt states her case:

“Abortion. We need to talk about it. I know, sometimes it seems as if we talk of little else, so perhaps I should say we need to talk about it differently. Not as something we all agree is a bad thing about which we shake our heads sadly and then debate its precise degree of badness, preening ourselves on our judiciousness and moral seriousness as we argue about this or that restriction on this or that kind of woman. We need to talk about ending a pregnancy as a common, even normal, event in the reproductive lives of women … We need to see abortion as an urgent practical decision that is just as moral as the decision to have a child — indeed, sometimes more moral.”

WHAT DO AMERICANS THINK ABOUT ABORTION? Polls are one thing; voting, another. Voters in even the most conservative states reject extreme abortion restrictions, despite polls predicting passage. Continue reading

Book Club: Missoula – Rape and the Justice System in a College Town

MissoulaGuided by his own experience as a mountaineer, Jon Krakauer first made a name for himself with a handful of books about risk-taking athletes and adventurers: Eiger Dreams, Into the Wild, and Into Thin Air. A blurb inside the last edition of Where Men Win Glory, his book about Arizona’s own Pat Tillman, aptly described him as “at home when it comes to writing about elusive alpha males.”

Krakauer’s latest book is a dramatic departure from that vein of writing, a study not of a lone wolf facing the elements but of a whole community facing its own controversies. Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town (Doubleday, 2015) is Krakauer’s investigation of a spate of rape allegations that shook the University of Montana and the town of Missoula from 2010 to 2012.


Missoula resulted from the author’s quest to become more informed about a crime that is both common and swept under the carpet.


Many of the assaults during that time involved members of UM’s Grizzly football team. As a consequence, the victims who came forward faced not only the normal challenges of pressing charges, such as revisiting their traumas in front of police and courts, but also the anger of local football fans who were convinced of their star players’ innocence. The fierce loyalty of the Grizzlies’ supporters, it seemed, fueled a greater sense of entitlement than accountability among team members.

As the story developed, Krakauer explains, Missoula entered the national spotlight in the pages of major newspapers like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, but it was a viral article on the website Jezebel, “My Weekend in America’s So-Called ‘Rape Capital,'” that captured the town’s newfound notoriety in an epithet that Missoula couldn’t shake. Continue reading

Movie Night: A Conversation About Obvious Child

Obvious ChildOne of the most interesting romantic comedies to hit theaters this summer is Obvious Child. The film has been generating substantial buzz as a completely different kind of movie — a funny, edgy, hip romantic comedy … about abortion. Planned Parenthood Federation of America consulted extensively on the film’s script, and key scenes were shot at one of Planned Parenthood’s health centers in New York.

The film stars Jenny Slate (Saturday Night Live, Parks and Recreation) as stand-up comedian Donna and Jack Lacy (The Office) as a kind stranger named Max, with whom she has a one-night stand — leading to her pregnancy. The movie’s dark humor revolves around the many difficulties stacking up in Donna’s life, from being betrayed by a cheating boyfriend and losing her job, to being faced with an unwanted pregnancy.

Thanks to Planned Parenthood’s involvement in the film, our volunteers were given the opportunity to attend advance screenings of Obvious Child. After attending one such screening in Tucson on June 24, our bloggers Matt and Anna shared their thoughts on the film. (Warning: There are some spoilers.)

Would I recommend this movie to my grandmother? 

Anna: I was talking about the premise of Obvious Child with my grandmother, who is very supportive of abortion rights. I told her, “I’m going to see a romantic comedy about abortion!” She replied that she didn’t know how you’d make a comedy about abortion, and was curious to hear my thoughts. Now, I wouldn’t recommend it to her because of the bountiful references to bodily functions. I cringe a bit to think of her watching certain scenes.

However, while I think many people are uncomfortable with women doing “gross-out” comedies, I’m also interested in portrayals of women as fully embodied human beings. It flies in the face of this very old-fashioned conception of women as pure and innocent, and men as brutes. It’s almost an expression of manliness to belch, to sweat profusely — whereas women must conceal these bodily functions at all costs.

Matt: It’s refreshing, too, that Max was so comfortable with Donna’s indiscretion in that regard. He went along with it when she joked about wearing diapers, and the subject of farts was definitely not off limits to them. A lot of this movie is about Donna’s freedom over her own body — not just her decision to have an abortion, but also her openness about her bodily functions, no matter what gender expectations that defies. Continue reading

Book Club: Woman Rebel – The Margaret Sanger Story

Now that comic books have become the source material for blockbuster movies, the oft-told story of the maligned and misunderstood superhero should be a familiar one, even to many who have never read a comic. Think Professor Xavier’s cohort in the X-Men movies or Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman. They’re extraordinary. They’re also flawed, often unable to shake the ghosts of an uneasy past. But their powers, not their shortcomings, are the reason they’re so maligned. No matter their good intentions, they challenge what is known and established, earning them fear and distrust.


Bagge’s graphic novel is a refreshing contribution to a medium that is often a guilty pleasure at best.


Given that trope, maybe it wasn’t such an odd idea to give the comic book treatment to the life of Margaret Sanger, the reproductive rights pioneer and founder of Planned Parenthood. Writer and illustrator Peter Bagge, a veteran of alternative comics, does just that in Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story (Drawn & Quarterly, 2013). The outcome is a graphic novel that doesn’t let exaggerated expressions, vivid colors, and terse speech bubbles derail an intelligent and sensitive retelling of Sanger’s life.

Comparing Sanger to a superhero might be hyperbole, but Sanger’s trailblazing work not only created the movement to advocate for birth control but also spurred the development of the oral contraceptive, or “the Pill.” She had the drive and the know-how to contribute to the movement as an author, editor, lecturer, and founder of a reproductive health clinic. Along the way, Sanger helped change the laws that stood in the way of reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy, while rubbing shoulders (and sometimes developing romances) with many luminaries of her time, from novelists to political agitators to wealthy industrialists. March is Women’s History Month, and this year’s theme is Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment — a theme perfect for someone of Sanger’s stature. Sanger’s visionary efforts earned her many accolades — as well as a campaign of character assassination that has called her everything from a fascist to a proponent of genocide. Continue reading