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KOPP'S WORDS STUN PRO-LIFE COMMUNITY

Some were stunned, many were outraged, and others felt betrayed.

There was nearly universal condemnation from the mainstream pro-life community Wednesday over James C. Kopp's admission that he shot and killed Dr. Barnett A. Slepian four years ago.

Those condemnations would appear to throw into question whether Kopp and his attorney Bruce A. Barket's strategy of using his upcoming murder trial as a national referendum on abortion will be successful.

In distancing themselves from Kopp, those identifying themselves as pro-life said it is wrong to use violence against doctors who provide abortions.

"It is inconsistent for anyone in the pro-life movement to take a life. One can't in Catholic teaching go out and shoot doctors who perform abortions or anyone else. Our ways are not the ways of violence," Bishop Henry J. Mansell said in reacting to Kopp's confession in Wednesday's Buffalo News.

The bishop, while declining to comment on Kopp's legal strategy, said he hoped there would be more discussion on abortion in the coming days and weeks.

"We're condemning the violent act. We're glad he confessed. He needs to own up to it. He needs to repent and seek God's forgiveness," said the Rev. Robert L. Behn, executive director of Last Call Ministries, a local anti-abortion group.

In Texas, Kopp's stepmother questioned why it took him so long to confess.

"He said he didn't mean to kill but that he meant to protect unborn children. Isn't that a contradiction?" Lynn Kopp said. "If you did it, if you had such intense feelings, why hide from them after you've done the deed."

In Canada, where Kopp, 47, is suspected of shooting and wounding three doctors, the leader of an Ontario-based pro-life organization said Kopp's action demonstrates disregard for life.

"He does not represent the pro-life movement or our philosophy. We have a commitment to nonviolence in defense of our pro-life position," said Jakki Jeffs, president of Alliance for Life Ontario. "I would state emphatically there is no room for violence."

Abortion opponents closest to Kopp grappled with his words -- that he did not regret shooting Slepian, only that the Amherst doctor died.

"He went off the rails. See what happens if you don't do what Christ wants -- the worst possible thing. How does Jimmy know that poor man (Slepian) wouldn't have repented the next day?" said Barrie Norman, a pro-life activist from Vancouver, British Columbia, where Dr. Garson Romalis was wounded in 1994.

Without people such as Norman, who considered Kopp a good friend, the question arises: Who will take Kopp's side and turn his courtroom strategy into a widespread abortion debate?

Buffalo talk radio Wednesday was filled with callers identifying themselves as pro-life and in the same breath calling Kopp a coward for killing Slepian, who died in the presence of his wife and four young sons the night of Oct. 23, 1998.

By day's end, only a small, radical element of the pro-life community stood in Kopp's corner.

The Rev. Michael D. Bray said he was canceling his annual Washington, D.C.-area White Rose Banquet, where abortion clinic bombers and killers of doctors have been honored, to instead hold a Jan. 22 rally in Buffalo to pay tribute to Kopp.

"It will be some type of presence proclaiming our support for Mr. Kopp and calling for justice for the preborn," said Bray, of Maryland. "He ought to be praised, not condemned."

The date of the Kopp gathering will coincide with the yearly anniversary of the Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

Neal Horsley, who runs a news service and Web page fiercely critical of the pro-choice movement, said he identified with Kopp's justifications for shooting Slepian.

"What Jim said was very revealing, that it was a terrible thing to take the life of another human being. He clearly felt deep remorse, but the most revealing thing he said was the only thing worse would be to do nothing and allow abortion to continue," Horsley said.

William Koehler, who with Kopp protested at New Jersey abortion clinics, described Kopp's action as a "pre-emptive strike to stop a killer."

"Jim is not a person who would take that step lightly. I'm sure he prayed about it and thought about it. My big concern is that there are so many people defensive of Jim, and that with this confession they'll just discard him now," Koehler said.

A number of people in the pro-life movement thought Kopp might have been framed because of questions raised by his supporters over the collection of physical evidence in the case.

Among those who struggled to reconcile the Kopp they know with the confessed killer was Joseph Roach, a retired Philadelphia banker who was the first friend and supporter of Kopp to appear in a Buffalo courtroom in June hours after the accused man was extradited from France and flown here.

"I am very disappointed in what I've heard about Jim Kopp. I believe Jim truly regrets what he did, that the abortionist was killed. The killing of anyone, even an abortionist, is objectively wrong. I cannot judge Jim's state of mind. Jim is really a victim of our society's behavior regarding the sanctity of human life," Roach said.

About two weeks ago, Kopp sent Roach word he was on the verge of confessing. "He wanted me to know he was deeply sorry (and) he felt sorry for misleading so many people," Roach said.

Joan Andrews Bell, regarded by many in the pro-life movement as a spiritual leader who is against violence, offered a statement in which she said she could not support the shooting, if Kopp is guilty of it.

But like Roach, the New Jersey woman took an analytical view in trying to understand what has happened.

"I also believe that if Jim did this act, he is a victim of what (Mohandas K.) Gandhi said of a corrupt and evil society, and President John F. Kennedy later reiterated: 'Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.' "

Susan Andrews Brindle, her sister, called Kopp a liar. "Either he's really evil and insane, or people have gotten to him and he's covering for someone," said Brindle, a Tennessee resident who traveled to France three times to visit Kopp after his 2001 capture. Brindle had enlisted the help of a Texas pro-life organization that had examined and questioned the evidence police had gathered against Kopp.

Closer to home, Stasia Zoladz Vogel, president of the Buffalo Regional Right to Life Committee, offered a grim assessment of the nation. "This country has devolved into such a pathetic state that no life is secure, born or unborn," she said. "The whole country is desperately in need of prayers, repentance and penance."

e-mail: lmichel@buffnews.com

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