Free Speech That Threatens My Life
By Warren M. Hern
The news of James Kopp’s
The previous afternoon, as I sat by a window in my office talking with a reporter about the appellate court decision, I noticed that the Venetian blinds were slightly open. Without interrupting the conversation or thinking about it, I reached over to close the blinds. That has become my response when I find myself by an open window. I move away, draw the curtains or close the blinds.
It’s too dangerous for me to be in front of a window. Five shots were fired through the waiting
room windows of my office in 1988. But I
learned the need to be cautious most intensely in October 1998 as I watched in
horror the reports of Dr. Slepian’s assassination in the kitchen of his home in
Whoever shot Dr. Slepian accomplished his purpose – to strike terror into my heart. It was an act of political terrorism, as have been the assassinations and attempted assassinations of 10 other abortion doctors and several similar attacks, also sometimes fatal, on others who helped abortion doctors or were with them.
It is unusual now for me to lift the coverings of windows in my home so
I can see out. I have a nice view from
my home of the famous Flatirons mountains that rise above
As my life is now, the windows cannot be uncovered at night. Sometimes I look into the homes of my neighbors and see them moving about and relaxing with their families. My office is a fortress of steel fences and bulletproof windows, and my home has become a hiding place from which I emerge and hope that I will not be the next assassin’s target.
James Kopp, a suspect in Dr. Slepian’s assassination, has been arrested, but where is the next one like him? Who are all the people who helped him escape and hide? When and where will the next assassin strike? Will I get to live out my life?
This week’s decision by the Court of Appeals was crushing. I am one of the four physicians who are
plaintiffs in this lawsuit against anti-abortion activists who have targeted
us. We sued them under federal
racketeering law and another law against inciting violence against doctors who
perform abortions. We sat in that
Each of us doctors described to the jury how we had been stalked and
portrayed as criminals by the defendants’ “wanted poster” hit lists, which were
distributed as fliers and displayed in a 1995 news conference in
We described how our lives had been permanently warped – in some ways ruined – by this harassment. Maria Vullo, our attorney, eloquently showed the pattern to the jury: poster, murder; poster, murder: poster, murder – all since 1993. Her colleagues pounded home the inescapable conclusion that the defendants purposely created a climate that said to fanatics, “Kill these doctors. Here’s your list.”
The federal jury of
My name, along with those of other doctors, is on an Internet abortion hate list – called the “Nuremberg Files” - now found to be acceptable free speech by the appellate court’s decision. Dr. Slepian’s name has had a line drawn through it. Who’s next?
Warren M. Hern, a physician, is the director of the Boulder Abortion Clinic