The Breakfast Table

Termination With Extreme Prejudice

The murder of Dr. Barnett Slepien, the upstate New York abortionist, continues to reverberate in the public prints this morning. It would seem there is a certain contradiction in people styling themselves right-to-lifers and slithering through the underbrush with telescopic rifles popping other people off, but I suppose their defense is that this is an era where self-expression is widely encouraged. Perhaps the good doctor’s death wasn’t an assassination but performance art.

Heretofore in our history, assassinations and other forms of political violence have been more prevalent in troubled times, like the 1960s, the 1930s and the teen years. What does it presage that we’re enduring so many murders and bombings in this relatively tranquil moment, when the rates for ordinary murders have been going down? Does this mean that the next time we’re in a crack, we can expect a frightful surge in shooting and killing?

Never far from the national debate, this seemingly endless controversy about abortion has been revived by this new killing. How it is resolved here in the United States, where abortion plays a minor part in population control, is not so very important, unless one considers freedom-of-choice the premum bonum. For myself, I consider freedom of choice a luxury that nations with low birth rates may indulge in. For places like Egypt, China, India, the need to suppress population may exclude allowing women and/or men the freedom to choose. I concede that abortion is a terrible method of population control, whether it be voluntary as in the case of Russia, or forced on women as apparently has been done in China from time to time. Nevertheless, it may have its place, if only as a threat to force people to use safer, milder and healthier methods of birth control.

At its best, abortion is a nasty business. When you do it, you’re killing something, whether you call it a fetus or an unborn baby or just a living clump of cells. As denizens of the 20th and most murderous of centuries, however, we need not be overly squeamish.

And whilst we’re on things medical, the Los Angeles Times reports this morning, whether facetiously or not your correspondent cannot say, that HBO will soon air a new series called HMO. This comes on top of CBS’s new doctor series, L.A. Doctors. Anybody who would go near CBS’s doctors is out of his or her freaking mind. These people sit around the TV screen cracking jokes about breasts and erections of such antiquity they’ve not been heard since the Old Howard, Boston’s once famous burlesque house, was torn down about two generations ago.