On February 21, 2011, Dr. Bernard Nathanson died. As he said, he “uncaged the abortion monster” in the United States. As he describes in his book Aborting America, he and his colleagues launched the abortion rights movement and organizations, feeding false statistics to the media about the numbers of women dying from illegal abortions.
Dr. Nathanson ran the largest abortion clinic in the Western World and was responsible for some 75,000 abortions. He even aborted his own child.
He eventually became pro-life through the evidence of science, and then through the love of the pro-life movement, came to faith. He was baptized into the Catholic Church by Cardinal John O’Connor in 1996.
Among the many lessons we can draw from his life is how he, as a founder of the abortion movement, viewed the Catholic Church. After becoming pro-life, he would give talks entitled “How the Abortion Issue was Stolen from the Church.” He said the Church was asleep, and he did everything possible to marginalize its teaching authority by driving a wedge between bishops and laity on this issue.
Speaking to clergy, he maintained, “We would have never gotten away with what we did if you had been united, purposeful, and strong.” That is why he had such a high regard for Priests for Life. In an interview with me in 1999, Dr. Nathanson said the following:
“Well, you know Priests for Life is an extraordinarily fine group. I don’t say that in order to make anybody feel better or flatter anyone. It’s an unusual and a very unique group in that most of the priests whom I have encountered across this country and indeed around the world, shy away from the subject of abortion. They somehow want to keep it under the rug and only pull it out when they’re ordered to. In my own experience as a Catholic convert for the last several years, I’ve attended a great many Masses and listened to a great many homilies and I believe in three years I’ve listened to only one homily on the subject of abortion and that was here in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Other than that, priests seem not to want to talk about it and Priests for Life is the Paul Revere of this whole gestalt. That Priests for Life are riding around trying to galvanize the rest of the clergy into getting engaged in what is one of the most appalling revolutions of the 20th Century and I am enormously grateful to them and I admire their work enormously. But unfortunately, I believe that there are not enough, that Priests for Life should have a staff twenty times what it has now.”
In the latter part of his life, Dr. Nathanson became a bioethicist, and often expressed to me his concern that the Church not be caught asleep again on the new bioethical issues. Let’s honor him and make sure we are awake and vigilant!