Dr. Bernard N. Nathanson was an early advocate of abortion on demand, co-founded the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (now called NARAL ProChoice America), and once operated what he referred to as ” the nation’s busiest abortion business”, overseeing the performance of about 75,000 abortions.
Years later, he would ruefully admit, “I am one of those who helped usher in this barbaric age.”
Dr. Nathanson died in his home today, at the age of 84, after a long battle with cancer.
The National Catholic Register wtites:
After performing his last abortion in 1979 and declaring himself to be pro-life, Nathanson produced the 1985 film The Silent Scream, which shows sonogram images of a child in the womb shrinking from an abortionist’s instruments, and the documentary film Eclipse of Reason, which displays and explains various abortion procedures in graphic detail. Both films had a significant impact on the abortion debate, solidified his credentials among pro-life advocates and earned him the scorn of his former pro-abortion friends and colleagues.
He also published a number of influential books, including Aborting America, written in 1979 with Richard Ostling, then a religion reporter for Time magazine, in which he exposed the deceptive and dishonest beginnings of the pro-abortion movement and undermined the argument that abortion is safe for women.
He often admitted that he and other abortion advocates in the 1960s lied about the number of women who died from illegal abortions at that time, inflating the figure from a few hundred to 10,000 to gain sympathy for their cause.
In his 1996 autobiography The Hand of God, he told the story of his journey from pro-abortion to pro-life, saying that viewing images from the new ultrasound technology in the 1970s convinced him of the humanity of the unborn baby. Outlining the enormous challenge of restoring a pro-life ethic, he wrote, “Abortion is now a monster so unimaginably gargantuan that even to think of stuffing it back into its cage … is ludicrous beyond words. Yet that is our charge — a herculean endeavor.”
In an epilogue to the second edition of The Hand of God, Father McCloskey called the book “one of the more important autobiographies of the twentieth century,” which documents “man’s inhumanity both to humanity and to his personal self, and the possibility of redemption.”
For more than a decade after he became pro-life, Nathanson described himself as a Jewish atheist, but in December of 1996 he was baptized a Catholic by Cardinal John O’Connor in a private Mass with a group of friends in New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He also received confirmation and first Communion from the cardinal.
About his baptism, he said, “I was in a real whirlpool of emotion, and then there was this healing, cooling water on me, and soft voices, and an inexpressible sense of peace. I had found a safe place.”
Among those concelebrating the Mass was Father C. John McCloskey, an Opus Dei priest who had instructed Nathanson in the faith over a number of years.
“He was a pro-life prophet,” Father McCloskey said in a recent Register interview. “He saw the whole culture of death coming, and knew that abortion was just the tip of the iceberg.”
Keep reading at the link.
William Grimes wrote a nice obit for The New York Times:
In a widely reported 1974 article in The New England Journal of Medicine, “Deeper into Abortion,” Dr. Nathanson described his growing moral and medical qualms about abortion. “I am deeply troubled by my own increasing certainty that I had in fact presided over 60,000 deaths.”
His unease was intensified by the images made available by the new technologies of fetoscopy and ultrasound.
“For the first time, we could really see the human fetus, measure it, observe it, watch it, and indeed bond with it and love it,” he later wrote in “The Hand of God: A Journey from Death to Life by the Abortion Doctor Who Changed His Mind” (Regnery Publishing, 1996). “I began to do that.”
Despite his misgivings, and his conviction that abortion on demand was wrong, he continued to perform abortions for reasons he deemed medically necessary.
“On a gut, emotional level, I still favored abortion,” he told New York magazine in 1987. “It represented all the things we had fought for and won. It seemed eminently more civilized than the carnage that had gone on before.”
But, he added, “it was making less and less sense to me intellectually.”
Read the whole thing.
Dr. Nathanson’s life story is one of repentance, redemption and forgiveness – a conversion story that recalls St. Paul’s conversion from a tormentor of Christians to Christianity’s greatest evangelist. It’s a story that reminds us that nobody is ever too far gone to find redemption and peace with God.
Rest in peace Dr. Nathanson.
Hat tip: Leah