Every so often literature provides the context for a gigantic manifestation of conviction. Someone who thought and believed one idea, one truth, suddenly alters an opinion. That person rethinks and repents, and in so doing rewrites history. The past changes and, as a consequence, so does the future. Such is the case with Bernard Nathanson and his book The Hand of God (Regnery). The volume's subtitle says everything: A Journey from Death to Life by the Abortion Doctor Who Changed His Mind.
Nathanson was the highest-profile abortionist in North America, if not the world, in the 1960s and early 1970s. He was the founder of the National Abortion Rights Action League and was in charge of the largest abortion-performing institution in the United States, New York's Women's Services. He was also responsible for bringing into the mainstream the suction method of abortion, whereby unborn children were literally vacuumed out of the womb. This made abortions much quicker. It also made them easier, at least for the person conducting the abortion.
Nathanson is disarmingly open in his writing, beginning the book with a candid view of a deeply unhappy childhood. His father was a leftist ideologue, who, ironically but not untypically, enforced his ostensibly liberated politics with all the rigidity and nastiness we have come to expect from people who know they are right. Nathanson's sister committed suicide and his mother was an isolated, unhappy woman. He also writes of his own troubled adulthood, of three failed marriages, of paternal failure, and of the abortion of his own child. He was the abortionist.
Perhaps most significant of all is that Nathanson admits he was also one of the original perpetrators of the big lie, the smudge of propaganda that holds to this day. We hear it a great deal and it runs thus: without legalized abortion, the back streets would be full of bleeding, dying women; most people believe in abortion rights, it is only Christian fanatics who oppose abortion; doctors who perform abortions are frightened of being attacked or murdered, and this is why some of them give up their work.
First, he admits that he deliberately and systematically lied about the number of deaths due to illegal abortions, raising the figure from a tragic 300 a year to a ludicrous 5,000. Second, he knew that the majority of people in the United States, of all religions, opposed abortion, and he was aware that much of the opposition came from non-Christians. Third, he knew that most abortionists have no fear of being attacked, that such attacks are extraordinarily rare, that most doctors refuse to perform abortions because they are opposed to them and, more than this, that many others who have done them in the past have since joined the pro-life movement.
A vital factor in Nathanson's conversion and in the change of heart of so many others was the development of Ultrasound technology. Nathanson could now clearly see what he had previously thought of as being a collection of tissue, a blob without life and feelings. He could now see movement, reaction, life. Life. He wrote about his Ultrasound experiences in 1974 in a medical journal and, to his amazement, swiftly received threats against his life and against the safety of his family. In spite of this he had an Ultrasound made of an actual abortion and this piece of historic footage has become both famous and infamous as "The Silent Scream".
Nathanson writes that after he abandoned his work as an abortionist he refused to take sides on the issue, not knowing what to do or what to say. But this could not do. By the mid-1980s he was firmly in the pro-life camp and has been ever since. The move was inevitable, particularly after he saw the malice and aggression of the pro-abortion zealots. They began a campaign to discredit him as soon as he changed his mind about the issue, and Nathanson began to empathize with those he himself had previously tried to discredit.
While he was fighting for and conducting abortions, he was described by various liberal newspapers and magazines as being enlightened, wise, courageous, and sensitive. As soon as he decided that abortion was the taking of innocent life, Nathanson was described by the same newspapers as bigoted, foolish, cowardly, and uncaring. It is odd how a man's character can change so fundamentally so quickly.
The Hand of God asks numerous questions and provides answers to many of them. If it is read objectively and fairly, and receives honest and thorough reviews in North America's major newspapers, it will serve to inject balance and integrity into the abortion debate. And if it is read objectively and fairly and reviewed honestly and thoroughly, I for one will be an extremely surprised and happy man.