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Slepian is remembered for his compassion and courage Memorial service held for slain obstetrician

Ten years after his murder, dozens of friends, family and admirers of Dr. Barnett A. Slepian remembered him Sunday during a memorial service as a dedicated father and a courageous physician.

Slepian, an Amherst obstetrician, was assassinated Oct. 23, 1998, in his home by sniper fire. His killer, James C. Kopp, who targeted Slepian as an abortion provider, is serving a life sentence in federal prison.

"I've known compassionate people who had no courage, and I've known courageous people who had no compassion. Bart Slepian was a man of compassion and courage," said Glenn E. Murray, a friend of the Slepian family and an attorney who represents the Pro-Choice Network of Western New York.

Murray said he warned Slepian weeks before his death of the growing danger he faced because of threats and violent acts nationwide against abortion providers, but Slepian responded by just changing the subject.

"He made a sacrifice because he wouldn't give in to harassment, intimidation and the threat of violence," Murray said during the event in Temple Beth Am in Amherst. "He told me that if abortion was legal and a woman's choice, he would continue. He stubbornly believed that no one was above or below the law."

The Slepian Memorial Fund Committee of the Pro-Choice Network -- which awards grants to medical students, residents and doctors to further their abortion training -- organized the memorial.

Maria P. Oakley, chairwoman of the committee, recalled the firmness of Slepian's views but also noted the support he received from his wife, Lynne.

"On more than one occasion, he said to Lynne, 'Say the word, and I will get out,' " Oakley said. "They both stood firm. It was a choice they both made."

But the Slepian she knew also believed strongly in discourse.

"I recall how he would roll down his car window as he arrived at the clinic to speak briefly with clinic escorts and protesters," Oakley said. "He liked to try to talk to the other side, although it usually didn't work. They just screamed back at him."

Others who attended the memorial included Susan Ward, counseling director of Buffalo Womenservices, where Slepian provided abortion services.

She also described the doctor as a courageous man who stood up for his beliefs.

"That made him a target," said Ward.

A member of the committee that organized the memorial, Ward said the group wanted to commemorate Slepian so that his memory and work will not be forgotten.

Slepian's four sons lost a father when he was slain, and Murray talked about the choice they faced after his death.

They could turn angry, lose hope and abandon their goals, he said, or, they could strive to rise above their tragedy.

Murray said the boys grew up to reflect one of Slepian's key traits -- respect for others.

"They are young men who, whatever their occupation," he said, "will live their lives recognizing, honoring and defending the dignity of all people."

e-mail: hdavis@buffnews.com

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