(WOMENSENEWS)–A lawyer for the man accused of murdering an abortion provider in Western New York says his client “should be exalted in this country.”

Bruce A. Barket, defense attorney for James C. Kopp in his upcoming trial for the 1998 killing of Dr. Barnett Slepian, told The Buffalo News that “Jim is a devout Christian, a kind, gentle man who only acts after thinking and praying on things. He backs up his beliefs by putting his own life on the line.”

In an article published Monday, Barket says Kopp’s guilt or innocence can’t be evaluated without examining the issue of abortion.

“The issue that is going to be squarely presented in this case is the impropriety and the immorality of abortion,” he said. “Our government is brutal in its protection of abortionists.”

Pro-choice activists fear the trial, which is scheduled to begin next year, could turn into a debate over abortion rather than an investigation of Kopp’s role in Slepian’s murder.

“I think it’s going to be a mess,” said Helen Dalley, president of the Pro Choice Network of Western New York. “Is James Kopp going to get up on the witness stand and say, ‘God told me to do this’?”