Bernard Nathanson: A Life Transformed by Truth

By George, Robert P. | The Human Life Review, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

Bernard Nathanson: A Life Transformed by Truth


George, Robert P., The Human Life Review


Tomorrow morning in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Archbishop Timothy Dolan will celebrate a Mass of Christian Burial for a giant of the pro-life movement: Dr. Bernard Nathanson.

Few people, if any, did more than Bernard Nathanson to undermine the right to life of unborn children by turning abortion from an unspeakable crime into a constitutionally protected liberty. Someday, when our law is reformed to honor the dignity and protect the right to life of every member of the human family, including children in the womb, historians will observe that few people did more than Bernard Nathanson to achieve that reversal.

Dr. Nathanson, the son of a distinguished medical practitioner and professor who specialized in obstetrics and gynecology, had his first involvement with abortion as a medical student at McGiIl University in Montreal. Having impregnated a girlfriend, he arranged and paid for her illegal abortion. Many years later, he would mark this episode as his "introductory excursion into the satanic world of abortion."

In the meantime, however, Nathanson would become a nearly monomaniacal crusader for abortion and campaigner for its legalization. And he would himself become an abortionist.

By his own estimate, he presided over more than 60,000 abortions as Director of the Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health, personally instructed medical students and practitioners in the performance of about 15,000 more, and performed 5,000 abortions himself. In one of those abortions, he took the life of his own son or daughter - a child conceived with a girlfriend after he had established his medical practice. Writing with deep regret in his moving autobiography The Hand of God (1996), Nathanson confessed his own heartlessness in performing that abortion: "I swear to you, I had no feelings aside from the sense of accomplishment, the pride of expertise."

In the mid-1960s, with the sexual revolution roaring after Alfred Kinsey's fraudulent but influential "scientific" studies of sex and sexuality in America, Hugh Hefner's aggressive campaign to legitimize pornography and, perhaps above all, the wide distribution of the anovulant birth control pill, Nathanson became a leader in the movement to overturn laws prohibiting abortion. He co-founded the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL), which later became the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) and is now NARAL Pro-Choice America. Its goal was to remove the cultural stigma on abortion, eliminate all meaningful legal restraints on it, and make it as widely available as possible across the nation and, indeed, the globe.

To achieve these goals, Nathanson would later reveal, he and fellow abortion crusaders pursued dubious and in some cases straightforwardly dishonest strategies.

First, they promoted the idea that abortion is a medical issue, not a moral one. This required persuading people of the rather obvious falsehood that a normal pregnancy is a natural and healthy condition if the mother wants her baby, and a disease if she does not. The point of medicine, to maintain and restore health, had to be recast as giving health care consumers what they happen to want; and the Hippocratic Oath's explicit prohibition of abortion had to be removed. In the end, Nathanson and his collaborators succeeded in selling this propaganda to a small but extraordinarily powerful group of men: in the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade, seven Supreme Court justices led by Harry Blackmun, former counsel to the American Medical Association, invalidated virtually all state laws providing meaningful protection for unborn children on the ground that abortion is a "private choice" to be made by women and their doctors.

Second, Nathanson and his friends lied - relentlessly and spectacularly - about the number of women who died each year from illegal abortions. Their pitch to voters, lawmakers, and judges was that women are going to seek abortion in roughly equal numbers whether it is lawful or not. …

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