Human Exceptionalism

Abortion Rights Pioneer–Turned Pro Life Advocate–Bernard Nathanson Has Died

I am surprise this isn’t bigger news.  Bernard Nathanson, MD, helped found NARAL and became one of the nation’s leading abortion rights advocates.  But he had a change of heart–leading to a Catholic conversion–and spoke up very forcefully against abortion, including producing the seminal pro life film Silent Scream.  Nathanson died at age 84.  From the story in the National Catholic Register:

Dr. Bernard N. Nathanson, an obstetrician who oversaw the performance of about 75,000 abortions before becoming a leading pro-life advocate and a convert to the Catholic faith, died after a prolonged battle with cancer this morning in New York. He was 84. 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.” He noted, regretfully, “I am one of those who helped usher in this barbaric age.”

I crossed paths with Dr. Nathanson twice at events in which we were both speaking.  I found him very cordial and, I must say, sad. In one talk, he spoke about aborting his own son, and the abject horror he felt about that when he came to change his views about abortion.  I never saw such haunted eyes.

Whatever comes next, may he find rest, peace, and forgiveness.

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