Roe versus Wade "celebrates" its fortieth anniversary this year.
My kind and gentle daughter, Kellie, was spat upon a couple of weeks ago while she and other committed pro-lifers prayed silently in front of an abortion clinic in Pittsburgh, PA. Why are these silent, though visible, warriors seen as a threat? And where does such hatred come from? Abortion was once, to some, a impassioned impulse to help . . .
Bernard Nathanson was a compassionate young doctor who began his residency in an obstetric and gynecologic clinic in New York in the 1950s. He attended hundreds of emergencies resulting from self-inflicted abortions and those performed by backstreet butchers. The use of crude and unsanitary tools often left patients infected and hemorrhaging, and sometimes sterile, or dead. Usually poor women fared far worse than affluent women who could pay for better “treatment.”
Driven by his desire for social equality, he cofounded the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, now known as the National Abortion Rights Action League, or NARAL. In 1970, when New York relaxed its abortion laws, Nathanson opened the nation’s largest abortion clinic where he claims to have performed over 40,000 abortions, including two on mistresses whom he himself had impregnated.
After his efforts to legalize abortion on demand were rewarded in 1973 with Roe versus Wade, Nathanson accepted a new job in obstetrical services, although he continued to perform abortions. A dazzling new innovation, ultrasound technology, had suddenly made this field very exciting. Doctors, for the first time ever, had a "window" into the uterus to observe the developing fetus. Nathanson was shocked by what he saw. He could observe the intricate structure of the skeleton and the pumping heart, which can be detected as early as the eighteenth day after conception. Even fingers and toes were visible. All anatomical parts are present after only twelve weeks. This new knowledge changed Dr. Nathanson.
In a 1974 article for the New England Journal of Medicine, he wrote that in abortion “we are taking life,” and “the deliberate taking of life, even of a special order and under special circumstances, is an inexpressibly serious matter.” He wasn’t suggesting an end to abortion, only that physicians “must work together to create a moral climate rich enough to provide for abortion, but sensitive enough to life to accommodate a profound sense of loss.” The article alienated his NARAL colleagues and sparked impassioned controversy. One consequence he had not anticipated was invitations to speak at pro-life rallies. Dr. Nathanson accepted, though he was clear that his opposition to abortion was based on science and not on any religious conviction; he, in fact, considered himself a “Jewish atheist.” In his first book, Aborting America, published in 1979, he was critical, at that time, of the pro-lifers’ flawed religious point of view. That year he stopped performing abortions. His work with abortion had begun as a noble idea to help the poor. The ultrasound technology had shed light on an even more helpless victim: the unborn.
Nathanson had an epiphany about using the ultrasound equipment to illustrate his new conviction. With permission from patients, he asked a colleague to record abortion procedures. Even though he knew what happened during an abortion, what he saw on the screen repulsed him. He saw babies being torn apart, tiny bodies trying in vain to scoot away from the probing, sucking tube intent on vacuuming them out of their safe sanctuary. One twelve-week fetus, even after being mortally wounded, continued to thrash about, heart racing, in obvious distress, opening its mouth in what could be best described as a scream of pain and fear.
Believing the video’s message was essential, Nathanson released “The Silent Scream” in 1985. About this time, Dr. Nathanson began his struggle with sleepless nights, depression, and guilt over his part of the mass slaughter of innocent babies. He contemplated suicide more than once. He read self-help books and sought counseling. He could find no peace. After years of suffering and seeking, he found his absolution in a conversion to Christianity beginning in 1989. In a similar development, Norma McCorvey, better known as Jane Roe, the lead plaintiff of Roe v Wade fame, also had a dramatic Christian conversion in 1995. She regrets her role in the landmark case and is also now an outspoken pro-life advocate.
Abortion on demand has been legal in this country for forty years. Even if it were repealed, abortions would not cease. But the cavalier attitude toward abortion “rights” has dulled the moral conscience for what used to be a heart-wrenching decision made with agonizing resignation. Joycelyn Elders, Surgeon General in the Clinton Administration, said that abortion has “an important and positive public health effect.” Never mind the women who suffer after the fact because they were ill-informed or ignorant of the negative physical and emotional consequences of abortion. Elders also said, "As a Christian, as an individual, as a doctor, I am absolutely opposed the the death penalty."
Why does the pro-choice camp fight even modest limits to their “right” to choose, for example, parental notification in the case of minors, optional sonograms before abortions, or even praying pro-lifers outside clinics? Because they understand that abortion is about more than abortion. It is a clash of worldviews: God and the sanctity of life versus the individual’s moral autonomy which is repulsed by any challenge to their personal "rights."
Is abortion simply a matter of removing an unwanted blob of tissue, like a tumor or a wart, or is abortion the act of killing a human being with unique potential of personal and physical traits that cannot be replicated? “Terminating a pregnancy” and even “abortion” can be vague, innocuous language, compared to “the deliberate taking of life” as Dr. Nathanson put it. It is deceitful and manipulative to call abortion anything but what it is.
Let’s be honest, so pro-choice women can at least make an informed choice.