Basic Books: Bernard Nathanson’s Story

Aborting America, by Bernard Nathanson, M.D. (Life Cycle Books, 1979): check your local library. Check your church’s bookshelf. Check Amazon. This one is hard to find, but it is worth the search. Nathanson is not just a man who left the abortion industry. He was a doctor who helped create the American abortion industry as we know it today. Later, coming to terms with the facts about the developing child in utero, he stopped doing abortions and started fighting them.

No one else has a story just like his. Nathanson was among the founders of the National Association for the Reform of Abortion Laws, which over the years has morphed into NARAL Pro-Choice America. He worked with like-minded people to change laws against abortion, going so far as to invent statistics about women dying from illegal abortions when the actual statistics weren’t adequate for NARAL’s purposes. He was a physician – an OB/GYN, no less – and when he spoke about the evils of banning abortion, people listened. (That fatal reverence for medical professionals who advocate abortion persists to this day, as I have seen to my sorrow in Concord.) He was involved in 75,000 abortions himself.

An atheist, it was not the religious pro-life arguments that reached him. Technology snuck up on him. Ultrasound images of preborn children forced him to acknowledge the nature of the work he had been doing.

At the time Nathanson wrote, Roe had only been in effect for a few years. His change of mind, when it came, was complete: “Abortion is the most atrocious holocaust in the history of the United States.” He would eventually produce an important short film called The Silent Scream, showing ultrasound images of a preborn child during an abortion. He thought for sure that would bring people around, with its scientific, clinical exposition of what went on during the procedure.

The Silent Scream did not end the debate, of course. Nathanson was undeterred, spending the rest of his days in the pro-life cause. (He died in 2011 at the age of 84.) He produced a second film, Eclipse of Reason, about late-term abortions. He traveled extensively, speaking and writing for as many people as he could reach. That all came after Aborting America, though.

For its historical information alone, this book is vital background information for anyone trying to figure out how abortion politics developed the way they did in the U.S. It’s also an interesting look at a man whose “second act” was just beginning when this book was published.