Even for me.
But when my friend Mary sent me an article called, “How Chuck Colson Thought Abortion Would End,” the weekly article I’d intended for today slid to the back burner.
Dr. Nathanson was the catalyst for my coming out against abortion. Years ago, I was the Hospital Director at UMASS Medical Center and a brand new Christian Catholic. When asked by a third-year-medical student to attend a panel discussion-debate on abortion featuring Dr. Nathanson, also a convert to Christian Catholicism, I squeamishly agreed. Naively hoping that my presence in the audience would be unnoticed.
Father of prochoice: Dr. Bernard Nathanson is an enigma immersed in mystery and surrounded by contradiction. The phrase applies in some way to each of us, of course. But the life of this man, the one no one speaks about from either side of the abortion-healthcare abyss is a study in dissonance. And the profound, inexplicable, jaw-dropping mercy of our God.
For Bernard Nathanson’s story is one of hope…more accurately, Hope, as in the theological virtue.
While a New York City ob/gyn intern in the sixties, Nathanson and his colleagues sang the “drinking song of the gynecologic intern,”
There’s a fortune….in abortion
Just a twist of the wrist and you’re through.
The population….of the nation
Won’t grow if it’s left up to you.
In the daytime…In the nighttime
There is always more work to undo.
Oh there’s a fortune…In abortion
But you’ll wind up in the pen before you’re through.
Now there’s a gold mine…in the sex line
And it’s so easy to do.
Not only rabbits…have those habits
So why worry about typhoid and flu?
You never bother…the future father
and there’s so many of them too.
Oh there’s a fortune…in abortion
But you’ll wind up in the pen before you’re through.
Partnering with Lawrence Lader, Nathanson overturned the 100-year-old statute prohibiting abortion in the state of New York. And became head of the largest abortion clinic in New York City along with cofounding NARAL. Abortion became Nathanson’s raison d’etre.
In his book, The Hand of God, he writes:
“One of our strategies… was to deny what we knew to be true: that an abortion kills an existing human being. We denied that fact in an effort to mislead the American public and the courts of this land…There were perhaps three hundred or so deaths from criminal abortions annually in the United States in the sixties, but NARAL in its press releases claimed to have data that supported a figure of five thousand. Fortunately, the respected biostatistician Dr. Christopher Tietze was our ally. Though he never actually staked himself to a specific number, he never denied the authenticity of these claims. Lader’s New York state campaign was a paradigm of political gamesmanship and social warfare.”
Incrementally, Nathanson’s passionate interest in abortion begins to fade. A growing inability to ignore the glaring financial incentives from abortion and the introduction of ultrasound technology, the obstetrician’s concerns about the “procedure” grew.
The abortionist doesn’t see what is happening inside the woman. No one sees what’s happening. Not the woman nor the people in the room. The only one to experience it is the being about to be terminated.
Although each of the dismembered parts of the aborted fetus must be laid out by the abortionist to assure that the uterus has been emptied out completly, it’s an act that can be rationalized as assuring the health of the mother. Bodily blood, fluids, and tissue are routine elements in the lives of physicians and nurses. Quickly, we learn to distance ourselves from the sight, odor and meaning and think in clinical (detached) terms.
But about the time that he was doing fewer and fewer abortions, Bernard Nathanson writes that he became curious.
“What actually happens during the abortion?”
And he asked a colleague to film what was happening during the procedure.
“Look, do me a favor, Jay. Next Saturday, when you are doing all these abortions, put an ultrasound device on the mother and tape it for me.” He did, and when he looked at the tapes with me in an editing studio, he was so affected that he never did another abortion. I, though I had not done an abortion in five years, was shaken to the very roots of my soul by what I saw.”The Hand of God
The recent film Unplanned, demonstrates precisely what happens with each of the sixty-million lives extinguished by the barbarism of abortion. In the true story, the manager of a Texas Planned Parenthood clinic Abby Johnson is asked to assist in an an abortion. And for the first time, Johnson sees what actually happens. She and we hear clearly the racing heartbeat of the child now aware of imminent extinction. The ultrasound silently records the whole odious procedure.
In Dr. Nathanson’s thirty minute film, The Silent Scream, the obstetrician points out the wide open mouth of the “fetus” about to be extinguished in a “silent scream.” Explaining that the rapid increase in heartbeat and thrashing movements of the “fetus” Nathanson reveals the panic of a living being fighting for its life.
Karl Stern, Nathanson’s mentor from medical school, supplies the answer to these rhetorical questions in his splendid autobiography, The Pillar of Fire:
“Most people think that the anti-semitism which we encountered under Hitler is the same anti-semitism as on encounters anywhere else…
This is a serious error.
Quantum physics teaches us that energy, in its transformations, does not increase in a continuum but by “jumps.” There is something similar about Evil.”
Later in a chapter called Letter to my Brother, Stern expands on suffering and Evil. “If we are concerned with the suffering of those innocent ones, we have first to look at Him. If we are concerned at the Evil which has brought it about, we have first to look at ourselves. Everything else is deception. If I want to renew the world I have to begin right in the depth of my own soul. This is the only true and permanent revolution I am able to achieve.”
When I began working on this piece, early last week, of course, I couldn’t know that the Supreme Court would reverse its fifty-year-old decision on Friday, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Hence the timing of this article is strangely fitting.
To me and millions like me, the reversal is an answer to prayer, fasting and unmerited grace. And yet, I understand that to many of my friends and many Americans, the Roe reversal is something to be mourned, perhaps even demonstrated against. But after spending this week studying the life of the father of prochoice: Bernard Nathanson, my understanding—no, trust— in the insatiable thirst for Truth in each human heart has deepened.
This obstetrician performed over 75,000 abortions in a conviction that he was saving women from harm. An atheist who dicounted anything but the technical, clinical aspect of the “procedure”, incrementally changed.
And kept changing.
Just as the introduction of suction aspiration made abortion medically possible, efficient and profitable, so the introduction of ultrasound provides a “window into the womb” for those willing to look and see what really happens behind the sterile drapes. Like the father of abortion, Dr. Bernard Nathanson.
A man who during his last few decades of life became dedicated to revealing what happens during abortion. After watching Nathanson’s 1985 film, The Silent Scream, President Ronald Reagan praised the film and said, “If members of Congress could see it, fewer of them would support abortion rights.”
A man who wrote this at the end of his book, The Hand of God:
“I am no longer alone. It has been my fate to wander the globe in search of the One without Whom I am doomed, but now I seize the hem of His robe in desperation, in terror, in celestial access to the purest need I have ever known. My thoughts return to the hero of my medical school years, Karl Stern, who was undergoing a spiritual metamorphosis at the very time he was instructing me in the arts of the mind, its orders, and its sources, and the words he wrote in a letter to his brother: “And there was no doubt about it,” Stern wrote, “toward Him we had been running, or from Him we had been running away, but all the time He had been in the center of things.”
But Miles Smith does a great job of it:
“The moral and social framework of the film reflects 1960 more than 2022. Yes, there is a female fighter pilot, but in the film’s universe that seems to be an anomaly. The admirals are all men; the pilots are mostly men. The Top Gun military is, for better or worse, homosocial.
There is something simplistic and almost quaint about the morality of Top Gun: Maverick. The film is an obvious homage to its 1986 predecessor, but it is also an homage to the seemingly unquestioned righteousness of the Pax Americana of the Cold War. In this regard, Top Gun: Maverick is nothing less than the last twentieth-century film.”