Anti-Abortion Extremism

Accused assassin arrested in France

An American fugitive sought for the assassination of a New York obstetrician was arrested in France in late March, just days after hard-line anti-abortion activists won a major court victory in California.

James Kopp, known to abortion protesters as "Atomic Dog," is accused of the October 1998 murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian, who provided abortions. Slepian had just returned from synagogue and was heating soup in his kitchen when he was gunned down in front of his wife and one son by a single sniper's bullet.

A hair found in the sniper's nest very closely resembled Kopp's, and Kopp's vehicle had been seen in the neighborhood weeks earlier.

Kopp also was wanted for the 1995 wounding of an abortion doctor in Canada, and is suspected in two other non-fatal attacks there. When he was arrested, Kopp apparently had been in France for three weeks and in Ireland for about a year before that.

In New York, officials almost simultaneously arrested convicted clinic bomber Dennis Malvasi and his wife, Loretta Marra, for allegedly sending money to Kopp and helping him evade an international dragnet.

Meanwhile, a federal appeals court in March overturned a $107 million judgment against anti-abortion activists who had gathered and posted on an Internet site detailed information about abortion doctors — data widely seen as useful only to an assassin.

The "Nuremburg Files" site, which carried photographs of doctors, the routes they took to work and more, crossed out the names of doctors — including Slepian's — as they were murdered.

In 1999, a jury found for Planned Parenthood and the other plaintiffs, ruling that the anti-abortion activists' activity amounted to illegal threats. But the appeals court found that "political speech may not be punished just because it makes it more likely that someone will be harmed at some unknown time in the future by an unrelated third party."

Also this spring, a nationwide manhunt continued for Clayton Waagner, an escaped convict who officials fear plans to murder physicians. Waagner stalked abortion doctors in several cities in 1999 before he was arrested that September and convicted on federal weapons charges. Waagner explained then that he had been going to Seattle to kill an abortion doctor.

"I would much rather be sitting on death row right now for having succeeded than sitting in some county jail for having failed."

Waagner escaped from an Illinois jail on Feb. 23. Officials say he was spotted in late March in Tennessee, apparently heading eastward.