In 1973, the infamous Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade legalized the crime that would take the lives of over 50 million innocent unborn humans, who were made in the image and likeness of God. As a result of this unspeakable decision and its aftermath, the United States of America has plunged into a moral chasm that no longer respects the dignity of the human person from conception until a natural death. In my opinion, this will inevitably destroy our country, unless America returns to its Christian roots in recognizing the natural law written in our hearts as children of God.
However, there is always hope.
Part of the hope is the story and witness of Dr. Bernard Nathanson, whom I came to know well during our many years of friendship. Nathanson was the co-founder in 1969 of the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL, later renamed the National Abortion Rights Action League), and former director of New York City’s Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health, then the largest abortion clinic in the world. In the late 1970′s he turned against abortion to become a prominent pro-life advocate.
I played a small part in bringing him into the Catholic Church where he found peace and happiness. Nathanson served as a prophet for life, as he engaged in a heroic worldwide effort through tireless travel to deliver pro-life speeches in foreign countries. He continued his work through his writings and video productions until his death in 2011.
When the heinous decision of the Supreme Court is overturned and the Holy Innocents are saved again from the atheistic American Herods, Dr. Nathanson’ conversion to life and to the Catholic faith will be seen as a very important part of the possible resurgence of respect for life at all stages.
After his conversion, Dr. Nathanson became a target for the cultural anti-life forces in America, the subject of ridicule and satire in comic strips, news commentary, and for television comedians because he had the audacity to change his mind regarding the objective reality of abortion. Since then, along with a distinguished obstetric medical practice and teaching in a university, he gave hundreds of lectures throughout the world in defense of the unborn.
Upon the verge of retirement he wrote his autobiography, which contains searing personal revelations about how a man could possibly become an abortionist, yet also a powerful witness to the possibilities of divine grace as he draws near to the final step of Baptism and incorporation into Christ’s Church.
Later this year, Regnery Press will be republishing an updated edition of Nathanson’s powerful autobiography, The Hand of God with a new forward by yours truly. Keep an eye out for it. It can change minds and hearts.
Now read below for a taste of its contents so as to understand the horrors that Dr. Nathanson had to overcome, including his family background and his complicity in the death of over 75,000 children. Indeed, in some ways we can see in him another St. Paul:
A warning to the reader: this is not an easy or pleasant book to read because it tells the truth about evil acts that are truly repugnant. What is remarkable and praiseworthy is that the doctor does not make excuses for his behavior. The reader certainly has many reasons at least to understand without condoning his behavior after reading about his childhood and adolescence in a familial setting that can truly be described as loveless. Nathanson recounts in painful detail his bringing up in New York by a family that appears to have been seriously dysfunctional for at least a couple of generations without the slightest semblance of religious faith or familial loyalty or affection.
The first chapter is entitled “The Monster,” referring to his father, and spells out very clearly the young Nathanson’s relationships with his Jewish Canadian physician father and his family. “We would take long walks together, he and I, and he would fill my ears with poisonous remarks and revanchist resolutions concerning my mother and her family and. I remained his weapon, his dummy, until I was almost seventeen years old, when I-as-he rebelled and told him I would no longer function as his robotic surrogate assassin.” About his sister, “her mental health destroyed, her physical health intact but–to her befuddled mind–suspect, her children rebellious, fallen in with bad company and truant, my sister killed herself one sunny August morning with an overdose of a powerful sedative.” Regarding himself, “And l? I have three failed marriages and have fathered a son who is sullen, suspicious but brilliant in computer science.”
In one of the final chapters of the book, entitled “To the Thanatoriums” he prophesies about what Pope Paul VI presaged so clearly in his Encyclical Humanae vitae, that once the respect for human life at its inception is lost the way will lead inevitably to euthanasia. “Drawing largely from my experience with a similar brand of pagan excess I predict that entrepreneurs will set up multiple small, discreet infirmaries for those who wish, have been talked into, coerced into, or medically deceived into death…. But that will only be the first phase. As the thanatoria flourish and expand into chains and franchised operations, the accountants will eventually assume command, slashing expenses and overheads as competition grows. The final streamlined, efficient, and economically flawless version of the thanatorium will resemble nothing so much as the assembly line factories that abortion clinics have become and–farther on down the slope–the ovens of Auschwitz.”
However, he ends the book on a note of hope in Christ’s mercy, forgiveness, and offer of salvation. As is often the case in a story of conversion, it is the prayers and personal example of so many of his pro-life friends and coworkers that over time melt down the resistance of a hardened atheistic sinner so that he can see that there might be room in God’s heart even for the likes of him.
Speaking of the witness of pro-lifers at a demonstration at an abortion clinic: “They prayed, they supported, and encouraged each other, they sang hymns of joy, and they constantly reminded each other of the absolute prohibition against violence. They prayed for the unborn babies, for the confused and pregnant women, and for the doctors and nurses in the clinic. They even prayed for the police and media who were covering the event. 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?”
Witnessing these pro-life demonstrators who were willing to go to jail and suffer bankruptcy for their belief made such a powerful impression on Nathanson that “for the first time in my entire adult life, I began seriously to entertain the notion of God, a God who problematically had led me through the proverbial circles of hell, only to show me the way to redemption and mercy through His Grace.”
As we can see, if with God’s grace, Dr. Bernard Nathanson could overcome such obstacles, well, then so can the other citizens of our country. With the sorrowful anniversary of Roe v. Wade around the corner, we need the witness of prophets like Nathanson to inspire us to continue our work for a culture of life. We can never underestimate the power of the example of our prayer and love.
Fr. C. J. McCloskey III, S.T.D. is a Catholic Church historian and Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington, DC.