Bernard Nathanson

Bernard Nathanson:

“I was shaken to the roots of my soul”

By John Mallon

One of the leading abortionists in the world (a man who aborted his own child) changed his mind—and heart—and turned in a completely new direction. He became a Catholic and is now one of the world’s leading pro-life advocates

Like a latter day St. Augustine or St. Paul, Dr. Bernard Nathanson's conversion stands out in these days when conversion stories are happily multiplying. 

Nathanson first became involved in abortion in 1945 when he urged a pregnant girlfriend abort their child.

In 1968 he cofounded The National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (now the National Abortion Rights Action League or NARAL). 

In 1970 Dr. Nathanson directed world's largest abortion clinic in New York City, when abortion became legal in that state. He estimates he was responsible for 75,000 abortions.

While running the New York facility, he performed the abortion of his own child on a woman he impregnated.

In an article written before his conversion entitled "Confession of an Ex-Abortionist" Nathanson outlined the three chief tactics he and his cohorts used to sell the idea of legal abortion in the US:

“A truthful poll of opinion then [in the 1960s] would have found that most Americans were against permissive abortion. Yet within five years [of founding NARAL in 1968] we had convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to issue the decision which legalized abortion throughout America in 1973 and produced virtual abortion on demand up to birth.

“How did we do this? It is important to understand the tactics involved because these tactics have been used throughout the western world with one permutation or another, in order to change abortion law. 

“The first key tactic was to capture the media.

“We persuaded the media that the cause of permissive abortion was a liberal, enlightened, sophisticated one. 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% of Americans were in favour of permissive abortion. This is the tactic of the self-fulfilling lie. Few people care to be in the minority. 

“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. Repeating the big lie often enough convinces the public. The number of women dying from illegal abortions was around 200-250 annually. The figure we constantly fed to the media was 10,000. These false figures took root in the consciousness of Americans convincing many that we needed to crack the abortion law. 

“Another myth we fed to the public through the media was that legalizing abortion would only mean that the abortions taking place illegally would then be done legally. In fact, of course, abortion is now being used as a primary method of birth control in the U.S. and the annual number of abortions has increased by 1500% since legalization. 

“The second key tactic was to play the Catholic card.

“We systematically vilified the Catholic Church and its ‘socially backward ideas’ and picked on the Catholic hierarchy as the villain in opposing abortion. This theme was played endlessly. We fed the media such lies as ‘we all know that opposition to abortion comes from the hierarchy and not from most Catholics’ and ‘Polls prove time and again that most Catholics want abortion law reform’. And the media drum-fired all this into the American people, persuading them that anyone opposing permissive abortion must be under the influence of the Catholic hierarchy and that Catholics in favour of abortion are enlightened and forward-looking. An inference of this tactic was that there were no non-Catholic groups opposing abortion. The fact that other Christian as well as non-Christian religions were (and still are) monolithically opposed to abortion was constantly suppressed, along with pro-life atheists’ opinions. 

The third key tactic was the denigration and suppression of all scientific evidence that life begins at conception.

“A favorite pro-abortion tactic is to insist that the definition of when life begins is impossible; that the question is a theological or moral or philosophical one, anything but a scientific one. 

“Foetology makes it undeniably evident that life begins at conception and requires all the protection and safeguards that any of us enjoy. 

“Why, you may well ask, do some American doctors who are privy to the findings of foetology, discredit themselves by carrying out abortions? Simple arithmetic at $300.00 a time 1.55 million abortions means an industry generating $500,000,000 annually, of which most goes into the pocket of the physician doing the abortion. 

“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 foetus in the womb. 

“It is clear that permissive abortion is purposeful destruction of what is undeniably human life. It is an impermissible act of deadly violence. One must concede that unplanned pregnancy is a wrenchingly difficult dilemma. But to look for its solution in a deliberate act of destruction is to trash the vast resourcefulness of human ingenuity, and to surrender the public weal to the classic utilitarian answer to social problems.” 

In the early 70s Nathanson began to have doubts about abortion, and with the advent of ultrasound he persuaded a colleague who was doing 15-20 abortions a day to record an abortion using the new technology. 

After the two of them viewed the results his colleague never did another abortion, and Nathanson wrote, “I ... was shaken to the very roots of my soul by what I saw.” 

This began a long soul-searching journey for Nathanson. 

In 1984, he incorporated the ultrasound films into a commercial quality film called The Silent Scream, demonstrating the humanity of the unborn child. The film created a sensation and the film has since become the most famous and sought-after pro-life video. 

In 1989, during his long existential crisis he became curious about the thriving Operation Rescue movement, and was moved by the love and joy on the faces of the rescuers as they prayed for their persecutors during a rescue in Manhattan's Lower East Side. He wrote: “They prayed for each other but never for themselves. And I wondered: How can these people give of themselves for a constituency that is (and always will be) mute, invisible and unable to thank them?” 

This led Nathanson, the Jewish atheist, to begin asking questions concerning a Supreme Being or “Force” that seemed to be moving these people, and perhaps him as well. 

He began reading authors like Graham Greene, Malcolm Muggeridge, C.S. Lewis, Walker Percy, Blaise Pascal, John Henry Cardinal Newman, and notably Karl Stern, a former medical school professor of his from McGill University, a Jew who had converted to Catholicism in 1943. (Nathanson did not know of Stern's conversion until he discovered a tattered copy of Stern's conversion story, Pillar of Fire in 1974.)

Nathanson was also feeling the weight of his past deeds weighing on him, and was searching for relief and forgiveness. 

He had been acquainted with a priest of Opus Dei, Father C. John McCloskey, STD, about whom Nathanson wrote, “He'd heard I was prowling around the edges of Catholicism. He contacted me and we began to have weekly talks. He'd come to my house and give me reading materials. He guided me down the path to where I am now.” 

Nathanson was baptized and received into the Catholic Church in 1996. 

He took courses in bioethics earning a master's degree in that field and has been working continuously to expose the truth about the evil of abortion. His books include his powerful autobiography The Hand of God: A Journey from Death to Life by the Abortion Doctor Who Changed His Mind, as well as the earlier Aborting America and The Abortion Papers, and a second video, The Eclipse of Reason. “As a scientist I know, not believe, know, that human life begins at conception.” Nathanson said shortly before his conversion. “I believe with all my heart that there is a divinity of existence which commands us to declare a final and irreversible halt to this infinitely sad and shameful crime against humanity.” 

© 2001, 2009 by John Mallon