My uncle was murdered for performing abortions

Arabnews24.ca:Wednesday 28 September 2022 10:14 AM: This First Person column is written by Amanda Robb, an American journalist who worked on the CBC Podcast, Someone Knows Something: The Abortion Wars. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

If you are white and middle class, there are a lot of things you take for granted as an American citizen. 

At least I have. 

Perhaps chief among them is the feeling you and your family are safe. Even on Oct. 23, 1998, I didn't lose that feeling. That evening, in Amherst, N.Y., an anti-abortion extremist slipped into the woods behind the home of my uncle Bart — an obstetrician-gynecologist who, in addition to delivering babies, performed abortions. The extremist had a semi-automatic assault rifle with him. Around 10 p.m., my uncle and his wife returned from synagogue services. In their kitchen, Bart put some soup in the microwave. While it was heating, he talked to his sons in the adjacent den where they were watching a Buffalo Sabres hockey game. The extremist fired his rifle. Inside my uncle's home, there was a ping and a small hole where the window glass shattered. Months later, Bart's wife Lynne told me what happened next. 

"I think I've been shot," Bart said. "Don't be ridiculous," she told me she said. But it was too late. A bullet had already ripped through my uncle's body. He bled to death in seconds in front of his wife and children, then ages seven through 15. 

I was 32 at the time, and shocked that America's abortion wars and gun culture had taken a member of my family. 

A blond woman dances with a bearded man.
Amanda Robb, left, worked with David Ridgen to investigate the death of her uncle Dr. Barnett Slepian, right, and the possible connection to an anti-abortion movement. (Submitted by Amanda Robb)

But I didn't think anyone or anything was coming for the rest of us. As strange and even stupid as it may seem, the truth is that my feeling of safety (for myself and my remaining family) endured through too many school shootings, mass shootings, climate change disasters, the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and terrorist attacks including 9/11. 

Then came June 23 and 24, 2022 — two dates that will always stand out in memory for me. 

On June 23, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a New York state law that had required residents to "demonstrate a special need for self-protection" in order to carry a firearm in public places was unconstitutional. Thanks to the Second Amendment to our constitution, we Americans have "the right to keep and bear arms." Furthermore, the justices said, there is no reason to exclude the "island of Manhattan simply because it is crowded." 

A woman stands on a balcony looking out at New York City.
Amanda Robb became an investigative journalist after her uncle was murdered. (Evan Aagaard/CBC)

My husband, daughter and I live in Manhattan. It's an island in the middle of the Hudson River, and it is less than 60 square kilometres. On a typical weekday, there are four million people here. That's an average of 66,666 people per square kilometre. Before the Supreme Court struck down that New York law, 32 per cent of Americans owned guns.  So, I now must assume that in every square kilometre of my hometown an average of at least 21,333 people have guns. 

Would you feel safe?

The next day, the same court struck down Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that gave all American women the right to abortion. 

This has already profoundly affected U.S. women and girls. In the three months that have passed since the court issued that decision, at least 14 states have banned abortion and one has imposed a ban at six weeks in pregnancy, before many people know they're pregnant. 

I'll cite only two cases of what has happened since. A 10-year-old rape victim in Ohio had to travel to Indiana to obtain an abortion. In Texas, a woman who was in severe pain and bleeding during a miscarriage was denied care. Hospital staff told her to come back when she was bleeding more profusely — specifically, filling a diaper with blood every hour." 

Would you feel safe? 

I don't. And I live in mortal terror for what could happen to my 22-year-old daughter. 

I've spent the last three years working for the CBC on the podcast Someone Knows Something: The Abortion Wars. It's been one of the best work experiences of my life. 

WATCH | Amanda Robb met her uncle's killer

After these two U.S. Supreme Court decisions, I decided I didn't just want to work for Canadians; I wanted to be Canadian. 

Why? Among my top reasons: Per capita, the United States has about 3.5 times as many gun holdings as Canada, and a rate of homicides by gun that is approximately eight times higher. Also, abortion has been legal in Canada since 1988, when the Supreme Court decided in R. v. Morgentaler that a law that criminalized abortion was unconstitutional. 

My uncle Bart moved to suburban Buffalo, less than 25 kilometres from the Canadian border when I was 12. My mother, sister and I visited there every summer afterward until he was killed. Almost always, we'd take a day trip into Ontario. 

I loved the country from a young age: the pristine scenery, the towns that look European, the cities that looked futuristic, poutine, maple everything and even the way people there pronounce "about" as "aboot" to my American ears. My paternal grandmother was a proud Manitoban, and I hoped that this was enough to allow me to claim Canadian citizenship. 

It used to be. 

But the Canadian Citizenship Act was changed in 2009. Today, you need a Canadian parent to qualify for citizenship and other routes to citizenship have their own challenges. My elderly mother-in-law can't be moved easily, so as much as my family wants to apply for permanent residency in Canada, we will continue to live in New York. So, for now, I have to stay in the U.S., in the "safety" of my own home, scared to death. 


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