One year ago, on February 22, 2011, Dr. Bernard Nathanson died of of cancer at the age of 84. After repenting publicly of his sins, he worked tirelessly for the unborn. This man once did a lot of harm. He was a founding member of NARAL (originally known as the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws). Nathanson helped come up with some of their favorite slogans, such as “Safe and legal is every woman’s right!” and “Who decides? You decide!”
Those slogans were powerful rhetoric. In this 1996 autobiography, The Hand Of God, A Journey from Death to Life by the Abortion Doctor Who Changed His Mind he admitted: “I remember laughing when we made those slogans up.” Nathanson became a turncoat, revealing trade secrets to the public, some of who naively thought abortion was really about women’s reproductive rights. In a 1985 interview he gave alongside Henry Morgentaler, Canada's leading abortionist, he stated: "Henry, we made up that lie around my coffee table. We thought the media would accept the one-million number and they did. Now you (Henry) are feeding me my own lie."
It was a climatic moment in the abortion debate when he came forward to reveal the lies behind the legalization of abortion. This man knew how to manipulate the public. Here is his shocking revelation in the article “National Abortion Rights Action League Founder Reminisces,” 2002 by Pro-Life Infonet
“We persuaded the media that the cause of permissive abortion was a liberal, enlightened, sophisticated one,” recalls the movement’s co-founder. “Knowing that if a true poll were taken, we would be soundly defeated, we simply fabricated the results of fictional polls. We announced to the media that we had taken polls and that 60 percent of Americans were in favor of permissive abortion. We aroused enough sympathy to sell our program of permissive abortion by fabricating the number of illegal abortions done annually in the U.S. The actual figure was approaching 100,000, but the figure we gave to the media repeatedly was 1,000,000.
Once the law was cracked, Nathanson got to work. He operated the largest abortion clinic in the Western world and was responsible for the deaths of 75,000 unborn babies. That is more people than the entire city of Bismarck, North Dakota where I live.
Nathanson was an atheist who had been raised in an emotionally cold environment. Success was important, a conscience was not. His experience with abortion was personal. In his autobiography, Nathanson admitted he helped procure an illegal abortion for a girlfriend and later performed one himself on a second girlfriend. After aborting his own child, the only emotion he felt was pride at a job well down.
If killing was so easy for him, it is no surprise that lying to get what he wanted came just as easily. And he wanted it to be legal to kill babies in their mother’s wombs. He got what he wanted in 1973 when abortion became legal in the United States. And I hope that he will one day get what he wanted at the end years of his life--for the horror of abortion to be known and to become illegal.
Nathanson abandoned the path of lies and began walking the pro-life road while he was still an atheist. With the advent of new ultrasound technology in the Seventies came the advent of his conscience. He saw the humanity of the innocent pre-born babies, fighting for life in their mother’s wombs during abortions. In his 1997 essay "Confession of an Ex-Abortionist" he explained: "I am often asked what made me change my mind. How did I change from prominent abortionist to pro-life advocate? In 1973, I became director of obstetrics of a large hospital in New York City and had to set up a prenatal research unit, just at the start of a great new technology which we now use every day to study the fetus in the womb. A favorite pro-abortion tactic is to insist that the definition of when life begins is impossible."
Ultrasound, a new technology then revealed the humanity of the fetus. Nathanson began distancing himself from abortions and the pro-choice movement. In 1984, he premiered a movie, The Silent Scream, that showed a baby reacting by trying to move away from an abortion.
AS A SCIENTIST I KNOW, NOT BELIEVE, KNOW THAT HUMAN LIFE BEGINS AT CONCEPTION
Surely it was one part technology and one part prayer that opened Nathanson’s eyes and heart — not his prayers but those of the faithful. The daily prayers of the faithful to end to abortion and convert those in the abortion industry had found their mark.
In his words, he remained a Jewish atheist for another ten years after becoming pro-life in 1979. Working alongside men and women with an infinite love of God and humanity, eventually warmed his heart. Nathanson credited his witness to an Operation Rescue event, when hundreds blocked traffic by sitting down in front of a New York Planned Parenthood building, with giving him the realization that such passion could only be coming from a higher call. The heavily Catholic character of the pro-life movement influenced him to embrace the Catholic faith. Cardinal John O’Connor baptized Nathanson in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in December of 1996.
Like Norma McCorvey, the Roe in Roe v. Wade, and more recently Abby Johnson who in 2009 quit her job as a Planned Parenthood Director, the Catholic presence and love within the pro-life movement has converted key people who were once enemies of life. The testimonies from such influential insiders have taught us some very important lessons.
- Prayer and the examples of love and courage can change hearts.
- Even when it feels like our prayers are not accomplishing anything obvious at the moment, they are powerful.
- Like St. Paul, some people within the pro-abortion movement really believe in what they are doing, that they are helping women. They need our love and prayers.
Nathanson is a hero. Once his conscience emerged, he followed it and went to the public with the truth. He could have lived a quiet life but instead, he lived a life of atonement and fought to undo the barbarism of abortion he once helped to promote.
The untold tragedy of those 75,000 abortions happened long before his eventual conversion and baptism. We should remember to pray for the repose of Dr. Nathanon's soul and hope that he will be interceding for the unborn in the presence of God.
The fight continues and grows ever more complicated with the Obama administration’s January 20, announcement that Church-related institutions must provide contraceptive coverage, including abortion drugs in their health-care plans. It seems we are growing stronger and more of the converted are joining the pro-life ranks, but the war against a culture of death wages on.
May we keep the memory of Dr. Nathanson’s conversion and testimony to the truth alive as we continue to hope and pray for the truth to prevail.
Copyright 2012 Patti Maguire Armstrong
About the Author
Patti Maguire Armstrong is the mother of 10, and has a B.A. in social work and M.A. in public administration. Her newest book is Holy Hacks: Everyday Ways to Live Your Faith & Get to Heaven. Others include Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families and the Amazing Grace Series. Follow her at @PattiArmstrong and read her blog at PattiMaguireArmstrong.com.