The man who admits he “uncaged the abortion monster in the Western world” is now taking instruction in the Catholic Church
Father Frank Pavone, the leader of Priests for Life, calls Bernard Nathanson’s story a testimony to the grace of God. Indeed once you’ve heard the account, it is hard to argue otherwise.
Nathanson, in his own words, helped “uncage the abortion monster in the Western world” as a co-founder of the National Rights Action League (NARAL) and once ran the largest abortion clinic in the United States. He estimates that he performed about 75,000 abortions in the course of his practice.
Today, however, Nathanson is a changed man who, after being raised in a Jewish home, is a leading pro-life spokesman and is on the verge of being baptized into the Roman Catholic Church.
He described his life’s odyssey for one of the most heavily attended sessions on Life, Love and the Family in Montreal on April 22. His story will be the subject of an upcoming book he has written, entitled From Abortion to Salvation.
“A paradigm shift happened to me,” said Nathanson of why he eventually changed his beliefs about the humanity of the unborn. “I fought that paradigm shift with everything I had, but it was no good. I couldn’t avoid it.”
He said he began to ask some fundamental questions about abortion after ultrasound technology was introduced. “The hand of God was behind this, I’m convinced. I began to see the fetus.” His ambivalence about abortion eventually had him cast out of NARAL and he performed his final operation in 1978 “under a great deal of internal protest.” “Let me tell you, there are no medical conditions today which justify abortion – none.”
In 1979, Nathanson crystallized his views in the book Aborting America and he then went on a speaking tour of the pro-life circuit. He said he was moved by what he saw in the pro-life people he met.
“I could see a suffusion of decency, kindness and optimism” in the faces of pro-lifers, he said. Nathanson called it “the pure power of love.”
To support his pro-life work, he produced the film The Silent Scream in 1984, which showed the abortion of a 12-week-old fetus under ultrasound. He said the doctor who performed that abortion “was appalled” after he saw the subsequent video footage and did no more abortions after that.
Nathanson noted that The Silent Scream was a financial and political failure for him – he personally lost $10,000 on the project which failed to change the political climate as he had hoped. But the film at least served to affirm pro-lifers’ convictions, he said.
In 1987, Nathanson joined another doctor in producing Eclipse of Reason, a film which showed actual footage of abortions on 19-week-old babies in California. But in between the two films, Nathanson and his wife took a trip to Rome for a private audience with Pope John Paul II which was arranged by Cardinal O’Connor of New York. “The experience was supernatural. It’s the only way I can describe it,” said Nathanson. “It was an out-of-body experience.”
He said he’s sure he was led by God to seek the audience with the Pope, for it has forever left an indelible impression on him.
After his return from Rome and the completion of Eclipse of Reason, Nathanson said he began to take stock of his “spiritual assets and liabilities.” At the time, he was reading a book by his former psychiatry teacher at McGill University in Montreal, who was undergoing a conversion to Catholicism. “It was a keystone of my spiritual arch. I have been preparing myself in every way for the leap (into Catholicism).”
As he now prepares for baptism into the Catholic Church, Nathanson said he realizes he comes with some very heavy baggage, but he is looking forward to the event nonetheless. “I am assured that the baptismal ceremony will shed that baggage.”
He also had high praise for the Pope’s new encyclical, The Gospel of Life. “(It’s) perhaps the most eloquent statement of life…a message here for me and those like me.” He added he has never read a more eloquent declaration on medical ethics.
“I do believe the Pope had it right when he said a life of happiness lies in virtue and self-control. It’s the open-sesame to a life not stained, marked and spotted with blood and weighed down with sin as mine has been.”
Nathanson took a few moments to defend HLI’s founder Father Paul Marx against charges of anti-Semitism. Fr. Marx came under attack prior to the conference for his observations that a disproportionately large number of Jewish people play a leading role in the abortion movement.
“I just wanted to set the record straight,” Nathanson told the HLI delegates. “Father Marx has been attacked by the media for this and I am here to attest to his veracity.”
“It is not a fabrication of Paul Marx or HLI. It is true, I was there. My co-founders (in NARAL) were largely Jewish…this is coming from me, who really uncaged the abortion
monster in the Western world.”
Nathanson condemned the shooting of several abortion doctors in the last few years as unforgivable. “I think it was absolutely wrong because we had not exhausted all the means available to us to try to resolve this issue.”
But Nathanson threw his support behind the peaceful tactics used by organizations such as Operation Rescue and noted that his wife has been arrested five times, was fined $25,000 on one occasion and has racked up $35,000 to $40,000 in legal fees because of Rescue-related activities.
“I’d do it again,” remarked Nathanson. “If we don’t make the statement, then we have betrayed our God.”
In closing, he pointed to sentiments expressed by Operation Rescue founder Terry Randall at a news conference earlier in the day as perhaps the best means to put an end to abortion.
“If the media would show those (abortion) films on a continual basis for one week, non-stop, on a channel which is well watched, I think the public would demand an end to the holocaust.”