Joseph Bottum on the life of the late Dr. Bernard Nathanson, one of the founders of NARAL:
Back-alley butchers. That was the catchphrase. And 10,000 women a year killed in illegal abortions, that was another. Coat hangers were what those butchers used to perform their grisly trade, and the only thing American women wanted was medical safety on the rare occasions when they made the agonized choice to abort their fetus. Not their unborn child. Fetus was the more scientific word, the true medical term, and besides, the argument wasn’t really about abortion. It was about choice—and who could be against that?And:
All these old slogans from the 1960s and 1970s, all these statistics, all these ways of framing the issue: One man, a doctor in New York named Bernard Nathanson, had a hand in concocting nearly every one of them. Sometimes, as in the claim of thousands dead from illegal abortions, they were complete fabrications. Other times, they were mere exaggerations. But always Dr. Nathanson was involved. “I am one of those,” as he later wrote, “who helped usher in this barbaric age,” and he spent the last 30 years of his life trying to atone for it.
Those were strange days for medicine, and Bernard Nathanson was in the midst of it all. In February 1969, then 42 years old, he addressed the conference that would soon develop into the largest pro-abortion lobbying group in the country, NARAL—the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws. “We’re interested in the poor people who have had to use the back-alley butchers in the past,” he announced, and he showed it by doing such things as picketing his own Manhattan hospital. In 1970, New York enacted what was then the most permissive abortion law in America, and Nathanson promptly opened what he called the “Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health.” What it was, in fact, was a straightforward abortion practice, and over the next few years he oversaw 75,000 abortions—and performed 5,000 himself, including one on a mistress carrying his own child.
Born to a doctor father in a secular Jewish family, Nathanson had always assumed that rationality required the rejection of God. But something in the pro-life fight brought him to faith. He didn’t reject abortion because he was Catholic. He became a Catholic because the struggle against abortion exposed him to serious believers, for the first time in his life. “We systematically vilified the Catholic Church and its ‘socially backward ideas,’ ” he explained about his early days with NARAL. In the final years before his death on February 21 at age 84, he had become an apostle for those same ideas.