Helen Weir
A hero triumphs
By Helen Weir
February 28, 2011

Here in the political three-ring circus known as the Great State of Wisconsin, the spectacle goes on. Governor Walker, thank goodness, is not backing down, while the buses of paid protesters from out of state keep pouring in. And we conservatives are supposedly the "astroturfers"?

On the national scene, the Obama administration has officially declined to defend marriage and instead will to try to impose its own version of reality on the entire country, if at all possible. What was it Tolkien said about Wormtongue, the false servant of Theoden King of Rohan? "And then the mask was torn, for those who would see."

But amidst the other diverting news of the day, I noted with heartfelt sadness that last week, the world lost Dr. Bernard Nathanson, archabortionist turned pro-life activist turned Roman Catholic. May God have mercy on this soul. His was a triumph that few have achieved.

It may seem strange to you — and it even seems a little strange to me — that I might choose to apply the term "hero" to a man with more innocent blood on his hands than he himself could accurately describe. In his article "Deeper Into Abortion" which appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine in the fall of 1974, Dr. Nathanson estimated that he had committed 60,000 abortions professionally to date — not to mention the one which he was part of personally, as the father of the killed child. This article indicated the tiniest beginnings of a sea change which was to engulf the man himself, and which will by the mercy of God engulf the entire culture of death in the end.

"I am deeply troubled," wrote this abortion pioneer, without whom the entire movement would not have taken hold in the United States, "by my own increasing certainty that I had in fact presided over 60,000 deaths. . . . We are taking life, and the deliberate taking of life . . . is an inexpressibly serious matter." This "increasing certainty" was to go on increasing, gradually but inexorably, until it reached the ultimate fulfillment of all pro-life commitment and logic.

In 1979, Dr. Nathanson published Aborting America (New York: Doubleday; co-authored by Richard Ostling)in which he spelled out his thoughts at greater length. By now he was causing a real sensation; the Godfather of N.A.R.A.L., the man who had been not only the ideological spark plug of the predatory feminist mentality, but who had personally presided over the largest abortion clinic in the world up until that time. The Preface of Aborting America calls it "a unique document in American social history." And so it is.

I have always considered the main thesis of the work to be a section I can still easily locate; in fact, it was bookmarked still when I went to pull the volume off of my bookshelves this morning. It says:

    I find the philosophies that accept abortion under all circumstances to be inadequate because they fall so far short of the most profound tenet of human morality: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

The entire rest of the work can be considered a wholehearted and utterly vain rhetorical attempt to backpedal from the fact that Bernard Nathanson, archabortionist, just quoted from the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ. What he called the "most profound tenet of human morality" and the very basis of his pro-life reevaluation of the abortion movement in its entirety turns out not to be a tenet of human morality at all, but an article of the Catholic Faith. It was Game Over for him and for me, as it is for the race of sinful humanity itself.

At the time that he penned these words, Dr. Nathanson was a non-observant Jew, and I was — God forgive me — a non-observant Catholic. Like him, I was pro-life, in the sense of being anti-abortion, and was searching for the social and ideological basis upon which Roe v. Wade could be overturned, which was why I was reading Dr. Nathanson's new book with such rapt attention in the first place. I read his constant disclaimers — "It is fair to say that my opinions about abortion, or anything else, have never been influenced in the slightest by the empires of faith." — "I come by my rebelliousness honestly." — "Looked at this way, the 'sanctity of life' is not a theological but a secular concept, which should be perfectly acceptable to my fellow atheists." — with the sinking certainty that a watershed had undeniably been crossed, all available denials notwithstanding.

It is not without significance that Dr. Nathanson's next major work was entitled, The Hand of God.

The point about honesty remains, for me, the most instructive one today. It cannot but evoke a passage from C. S. Lewis' little gem The Great Divorce, in which the saved soul Dick disputes with the lost Episcopal Ghost. "Do you really think," Dick asks, "that there are no sins of the intellect?" The Ghost retorts:

    There are indeed, Dick. There is hide-bound prejudice, and intellectual dishonesty, and timidity, and stagnation. But honest opinions, fearlessly followed — they are not sins.

To which Dick replies:

    Our opinions were not honestly come by. We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modern and successful. . . . When, in our whole lives, did we honestly face, in solitude, the one question on which all turned: whether after all the Supernatural might not in fact occur?

Dr. Nathanson's honestly-come-by rebelliousness turns out to have been but an effort at the same, fundamental evasion, which, in the current expression, didn't "work for him" in the end.

The mainstream pro-life movement ought to take the death of Dr. Nathanson as an opportunity to face this question for itself. Still working off what might be termed the "Willke model" — that "abortion is not a religious issue" — it likes to believe that it is being outgunned politically, financially, and socially, when in fact its central failure is of its own making. Honest efforts to reestablish legal protection for innocent human life are not even honest until the question of the Supernatural has been faced. As Dr. Nathanson attested even back in the days when he didn't mean to, there is no sound foundation for the movement itself except the authentic teachings of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. Abortion is not ONLY a religious issue, but it is a religious issue first and foremost, and therefore only the true Faith can fully conquer it.

It is a matter of some consequence that, while the mainstream pro-life forces resist this conclusion in varying degrees, the proponents of abortion have never done so. Dr. Nathanson records a conversation between himself and fellow archabortionist Lawrence Lader on the subject, which unfolded as follows. "Then Larry brought out his favorite whipping boy," Dr. Nathanson recalled.

    "And the other thing we've got to do is to bring the Catholic hierarchy out where we can fight them. That's the real enemy". . . . He held forth on that theme through most of the drive home. . . . It passed through my mind that if one had substituted "Jewish" for "Catholic," it would have been the most vicious anti-Semitic tirade possible. I attempted a mild remonstrance. "Well, Larry, . . . is the Catholic hierarchy identical with the anti-abortion forces? Aren't there any others opposed to abortion?" As I nosed the car into the Lincoln Tunnel traffic, he set the intellectual tone for the next eight years with a single word: "No."

What Lader stated is not literally true, because there are many good people, of many ideologies and belief systems, opposed to abortion in various credible ways. What he stated remains spiritually true because all truth is God's truth, and that truth He entrusted in its fullness to His Church. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a secularist roommate back in my undergraduate days, who told me that "all worldviews are equal, except yours."

"Your contention is self-contradictory," I pointed out.

"I stand by it nonetheless," she retorted.

"Then," I said, "you proclaim Jesus Christ crucial as clearly as they do who call Him Lord and Savior." She was ended our friendship over this remark, but that is not the same thing as refuting to its logic.

The great thing about God is that he works with us wherever we are. He touched Bernard Nathanson after 60,001 abortions, accepting even an ersatz form of honesty as His starting point: His ending point on this earth was the Church, and now it is to be hoped that the good doctor is being welcomed into eternal life. I call Dr. Nathanson "good" because we call the honest Thief who was crucified next to Christ "good." One drop of Christ's shed blood is enough to redeem all the blood that Dr. Nathanson ever shed. Whatever else he did, Bernard Nathanson accomplished the one thing we are all here in this world to do: he confessed his sins, made reparation for them, and entered the Catholic Church.

When Boromir of Gondor lay dying (in the first chapter of The Two Towers) he and Aragorn had the following exchange:

    "Farewell, Aragorn! Go to Minas Tirith and save my people. I have failed."

    "No!" said Aragorn. "You have conquered. Few have gained such a victory. Be at peace."

May the soul of Bernard Nathanson, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

© Helen Weir


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