Dr. Bernard Nathanson, an obstetrician who dramatically converted from a leading abortionist to a high-impact advocate for the unborn, has died of cancer at age 84. His life parallels that of the Apostle Paul or John Newton, in that he turned from a dark past to redemption and then to fight against the very evil he had earlier promoted. His 1985 movie, “The Silent Scream,” showing an ultrasound of an abortion, galvanized many to the prolife cause.
In the 1960s, Dr. Nathanson helped form the organization now called NARAL Prochoice America to work for legalizing abortion. During the 1960s and 70s, he worked zealously for the pro-abortion cause by directing an abortion clinic in New York City, by training others in abortion techniques and by performing abortions himself. The National Catholic Register summarized his notorious career as an abortionist:
Overall, Nathanson estimated, he presided over 60,000 abortions as director of the facility, instructed fellow practitioners in the performance of 15,000 other abortions, and personally performed about 5,000 abortions, including one on his own child conceived with a girlfriend in the 1960s.
In 1979, Dr. Nathanson abandoned abortion and publicly declared himself to be prolife. As stunning as that ideological conversion was, Dr. Nathanson made a much greater impact for the unborn with his 1985 prolife video, The Silent Scream. This video is pretty gruesome, because it used the then-new technology of ultrasound to peer into the womb and show the death of an unborn child as his mother undergoes the abortion procedure. ”The Silent Scream” had an effect on many like the book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” did to convince many that slavery was morally wrong. This video showed undeniably the personhood of the unborn child and the graphic horror of abortion.
Wracked with guilt over his long history of promoting abortion and doing abortions himself, Dr. Nathanson later found peace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. He was raised Jewish, and later proclaimed himself to be an atheist while a prolifer, but then joined the Catholic Church.
Like the Saul of Tarsus who once persecuted Christians, and then became a leading evangelist for the Christian faith, and like John Newton, who transported captured Africans to the West Indies to be sold into slavery, and then converted to Christ and worked for the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire, Dr. Nathanson totally turned to fight against the abortion procedure he once promoted. Dr. Nathanson influenced many with the totality of his life – his passion for the prolife cause, the authority with which he spoke based on his expertise, and his refreshing honesty and humility that he frequently demonstrated by admitting that he had been very wrong on abortion. Dr. Nathanson will be long remembered as a hero of the prolife movement.