In the prologue to this book, there is a moving tribute to Sir William Liley, who, Nathanson says, recognized the irreconcilable opposition between fetology and the abortion ethic before anyone else. He quotes a comment by Liley concerning the bitter irony of recent events. Our generation, Liley said, is the first ever to have a reasonably complete picture of the development of the human being: ”In 1930s the liberation of a human egg from the ovary was observed. In 1944 through a microscope was seen the union of the human sperm and ovum. In the 1950s the events of the first days of life were described, those critical first steps in a prodigious journey.” For a generation which reputedly prefers scientific fact to barren philosophy, he continued, we might have thought that this new information would have engendered a new respect for intra-uterine life. Instead, around the world there began a systematic campaign for the destruction of the embryo as a cure for social and personal ills. Just when the embryo arrives on the medical scene, he is made a social nonentity.
The middle section of this book, “Fetology for Pro-Life,” as describes the dramatic developments in the new science after World War II. As he frequently does, Nathanson puts special emphasis on the development of ultrasound, first applied to a pregnant by a Scottish obstetrician, Ian Donald, in 1958. Every woman seeking an abortion, Nathanson declares, ought to be obliged to see what is going on inside her own uterus. He quotes what one woman said: “I feel that it is human. It belongs to me. I couldn’t have an abortion now.”
Nathanson’s own experiences on both sides of the abortion controversy provide him with useful background material. In the long first part, “Abortion and the Media,” he is able to document from personal knowledge that the newspapers often violate principles of integrity and impartiality, and to show that there is a media elite which prides itself on its “liberal” social perspective. He also claims that the pages of certain prestigious medical journals were open to him when he was practicing abortionist, but became closed when he switched to the other side. When Dr. Thomas Hilgers of Creighton University presented factual evidence to a congressional committee showing that the figures used by the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL) for illegal abortions and deaths from them before abortion became legal were wildly inflated, the New York Times and the Washington Post maintained a dignified silence. Not a word about the disagreeable facts.
The most interesting section of the book is the last, entitled “Catholics.” No other social change he knows of, Nathanson, maintains, was so dependent on bias. NARAL knew who its enemies were, and cleverly exploited traditional anti-Catholic prejudices and the emerging differences among Catholics themselves. For “cool” Catholics like the Kennedys, NARAL provided the now-classic straddle for people in public positions: abortion is personally abhorrent, but everyone must be free to make his own choice. In the absence of any organization like the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights (which came along later), the advocates of abortion were free to peddle bigotry. Did the American Council for Civil Liberties not protest? Not at all; some civil liberties are more important than others.
“We will win…”
Nathanson points out that the opposition to abortion has become far more ecumenical than it was ten years ago. It is not to religion that he looks for hope, however but to science: the scientific data demonstrate irrefutably that the child in the womb is a human being, and eventually it will have to be given status in law—if only because of uterine surgery and similar developments. On CBC television a few months ago, Laura McArthur, head of Toronto Right-to-Life, was heard saying, “We will win, because we are right.” As far Dr. Nathanson is concerned, this is the simple truth.