Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Posted at 9:39 AM ET, 02/22/2011

Bernard Nathanson, abortion provider turned pro-life activist, dies

By Emma Brown
Emma Brown

Dr. Bernard Nathanson, an obstetrician who estimated that he was involved in 75,000 abortions -- including one in the 1940s for his then-girlfriend, who had become pregnant with his child -- before he became a leading pro-life activist, died Monday of cancer in New York. He was 84.

Dr. Nathanson operated an abortion clinic in New York during the 1960s and 70s and helped found the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, now called NARAL Pro-Choice America, in 1969.

New ultrasound technology provided images, he said, that changed his mind about the morality of abortions. He performed his last such procedure in 1979 and became a high-profile anti-abortion lecturer and campaigner.

In the mid-1980s, Dr. Nathanson narrated "The Silent Scream," a film that shows the abortion of a three-month-old fetus in graphic detail and was screened at the White House by President Ronald Reagan.

Dr. Nathanson also produced "Eclipse of Reason," a film about late-term abortion, and wrote several books, including "Abortion Papers: Inside the Abortion Mentality" (1983) and the 1996 autobiography "The Hand of God."

"I know every facet of abortion," he wrote in his autobiography. "I helped nurture the creature in its infancy by feeding it great draughts of blood and money; I guided it through its adolescence as it grew fecklessly out of control."

Born into a Jewish family in New York, Dr. Nathanson converted to Catholicism in 1996. His wife, Christine Reisner-Nathanson, told the Associated Press that he had been vilified by both sides of the abortion debate:

"When he was an abortion doctor he was seen as a pariah by the medical community," she said, "and when he went pro-life he was scorned by the women in the pro-abortion movement."

A full obituary will be posted shortly.

By Emma Brown  | February 22, 2011; 9:39 AM ET
Categories:  Emma Brown  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: John Strauss, TV and film composer
Next: Joseph Flom dies: Lawyer who mastered hostile takeovers was 87


Rest in peace. He learned from real experience to choose between right and wrong. May others honor and preserve human life as earnestly as he did.

Posted by: momsaid | February 22, 2011 10:23 AM | Report abuse

Please check your facts, he was completely welcomed & embraced by the pro-life movement. He worked closely with Priests for Life and Human Life International. He was a great personal friend of Fr. Frank Pavone who visited him days before he died.

Posted by: nicola2 | February 22, 2011 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Just curious - are pregnant women the only patients he thought unworthy of self-determination? He thought he had more right to decide what medical procedures they should have? He evaluated the medical risks of pregnancy and the medical risks of ending pregnancy and decided he was the Decider? All the while using propaganda dependant on the medically unsupportable premises behind "Silent Scream"? It's one thing to say exercise care, be responsible for your medical and sexual choices and avoid unplanned pregnancies, but many of these procedures are done because of unexpected risks. As a doctor, he became unethically invested in the decisions of his patients to the point where he should not be providing care.

Posted by: saymyname | February 22, 2011 11:31 AM | Report abuse

He made his choices and hopefully he let others make their choices.

Posted by: rlj1 | February 22, 2011 11:36 AM | Report abuse

I've no doubt God is welcoming Dr. Nathanson to Heaven. He gives inspiration and encouragement to sinners as to the mercy of God.

I'd like to point out to "saymyname" that the decision Dr. Nathanson made not to perform abortions were decisions about his own actions, rather than decisions about the "unworthiness" of his patients. The doctor certainly had a right to be the "Decider" of his own professional choices. This is not unethical. It is the highest form of ethics when a doctor refuses what patients demand when the doctor knows it is not in their best interests.

Posted by: babs27 | February 22, 2011 11:54 AM | Report abuse

The life of Dr. Bernard Nathanson is one of the most remarkable stories of God’s mercy and power.

My own life has intersected with his since the mid-80’s, and our last time together was just last week. Years ago, Dr. Nathanson said, ‘I uncaged the abortion monster in the United States,’ and then he told us priests that he and his former colleagues ‘would never have gotten away with what we did if you had been united, purposeful and strong.’ That assertion is at the core of our ministry of Priests for Life.

I will never forget the workshop at which I introduced him at the 1994 Human Life International Conference in Irvine, CA. He was supposed to talk about chemical abortion, but at the last minute decided instead to speak of his spiritual journey. At the end of the talk, he said that he was standing on the brink of conversion to the Catholic Church. The room exploded. People were leaping into the air. He said that he hoped God could forgive him, and I said, ‘Dr. Nathanson, he already has.’ And I reminded him of that exchange just last week.

Dr. Nathanson appears in the introductory video of Priests for Life. He called Priests for Life the ‘Paul Revere’ of the pro-life movement, and said that he was always immensely grateful for our work, because though he caught the Church asleep on the abortion issue in the late 60’s, he believed the Church could be re-activated to build the Culture of Life. In memory of Dr. Nathanson, we will redouble our efforts to do just that.

Posted by: FatherFrankPavone | February 22, 2011 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Where is the longer obituary you've been promising since February 22?

Posted by: godspear | February 28, 2011 9:49 PM | Report abuse

I am an Important, Leftist, Progressive Liberal, and I support the Roe v. Wade right of a Woman to kill her baby.

Posted by: | March 1, 2011 6:20 PM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.

characters remaining

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company