The story of Bernard Nathanson is a complicated but ultimately uplifting one, especially at a time when there are glimmers of hope that the tide of public opinion is turning against Planned Parenthood.
Nathanson, who died earlier this week at the age of 84, is the obstetrician who, by his own estimation, oversaw 75,000 abortions. He credits ultrasound technology for changing his mind and heart about abortion, eventually inspiring him to become a leading pro-life advocate.
It was Nathanson who produced the 1985 film The Silent Scream, which showed graphic sonogram images of a 12-week-old fetus being aborted by the suction method. Clearly visible as the suction tip begins to probe, the baby thrashes around violently in an effort to move away from it. Nathanson, who narrates the film, points out the baby's mouth opening during the apparent struggle, calling it a "silent scream." It is chilling to watch.
Nathanson was a founding member of the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (now called NARAL ProChoice America). When abortion was legalized in the state of New York, he became director of the Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health, which he later called "the largest abortion clinic in the Western world." According to a report in the National Catholic Register, Nathanson "often admitted that he and other abortion advocates in the 1960s lied about the number of women who died from illegal abortions," inflating the numbers to promote their cause.
To his credit, Nathanson never shrank from taking responsibility for his role in the abortion movement. "I am one of those who helped usher in this barbaric age," he wrote.
Nathanson, who had described himself as a Jewish atheist, converted to Christianity in 1996. Cardinal John O'Connor baptized him into the Catholic Church in a private ceremony at St. Patrick's Cathedral.
In his autobiography, The Hand of God, Nathanson wrote about the difficult task of trying to restore a pro-life ethos. "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."