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The Abortion Debate Through a Son's Eyes

Mar 2, 2006 (Fresh Air from WHYY)

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The debate over abortion has been a defining issue since the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973. But for Eyal Press, it was a defining element of his childhood — and raised new questions about his family's beliefs.

Two doctors in Buffalo, N.Y., were performing abortions in the early 1990s: Shalom Press and Barnett Slepian. On October 23, 1998, Dr. Slepian was killed when a sniper's bullet came through his kitchen window. Soon after, the police informed Dr. Press that he was also a target.

Now a journalist, Eyal Press describes his front-row view of an intense debate in Absolute Convictions. To write it, Press returned to Buffalo to examine the town's dynamic and to listen for echoes of the events of 1998. His book's subtitle is "My Father, a City, and the Conflict that Divided America."

Based in New York City, Press is a regular contributor to The Nation and The American Prospect. A winner of the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism, Press has also written for The New York Times Magazine and The Atlantic Monthly.

Read a Short Excerpt:

Naturally, I've thought often about why my father has persisted in doing something that so many other doctors in his line of work have for good reason given up. I've thought as well about what I would do in his shoes. My father insists his decision to remain an abortion provider is not a political act but a function of his professional responsibilities. But are those professional responsibilities worth risking his life for?

To know that one's parents will not live forever—that they are mortal, like everyone else—is part of what it means to be an adult. To imagine they might be targeted by an assassin on account of a commitment to some abstract principle is quite another. Theoretically, such a thing ought to fill one with pride. But who among us would like to see a parent become a martyr?

In a way no abstract situation could, my father's experience has forced me to think hard about the tension between remaining true to one's convictions and the practical necessity of surviving in the world. This is something that has always fascinated me, perhaps because, as Dr. Slepian's murder would reveal, it touches on a rift within my family: between the defiant Israelis on one side, and those with a vivid memory of surviving the Holocaust on the other.

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From the Archives

Oct. 1998: Daniel Zwerdling talks with Buffalo News reporter Jerry Zremski.

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