The Hand of God; A Journey from Death to Life by the Abortion Doctor Who Changed His Mind By Bernard N. Nathanson, M.D., Selected Quotes
Silent Scream The Hand of God is “semi-autobiographical…for the study of…the…demise of one system of morality…and the painful acquisition of another more coherent, more reliable [morality]…[with] the backdrop …of abortion. p. 3.
“We live in an age of fulsome nihilism; an age of death; an age in which, as author Walker Percy (a fellow physician, a pathologist who specializes in autopsying Western civilization) argued, “compassion leads to the gas chamber,” or the abortion clinic, or the euthanist’s office.” p. 4.
“I worked hard to make abortion legal, affordable, and available on demand. In 1968, I was one of the three founders of the National Abortion Rights Action League. I ran the largest abortion clinic …and oversaw tens of thousands of abortions. I have performed thousands myself.” p. 5.
“The Hippocratic Oath states the following,
I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and in like manner, I will not give to a woman a pessary [a device inserted in the vagina, thought erroneously to initiate an abortion] to produce an abortion.
The oath is unambiguous on these matters.” p. 48.
“The World Medical Association meeting at Geneva, in 1948, in the aftermath of the revelations of the Nazi medical experiments, revised the oath marginally to include the pledge, “I will retain the utmost respect for Human Life from conception.”…in 1964 restated the theme : “The health of my patient will be my first consideration.” p.50. The unborn baby in an abortion procedure is not considered a patient.
Nathanson quotes Dr. Louis Lasagna from Johns Hopkins,
Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given to me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life [italics added]: this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God. p. 50.
“There were perhaps three hundred or so deaths from criminal abortions annually in the United States in the sixties, but NARAL in its press releases claimed to have data that supported a figure of five thousand.” p. 90. The NARAL numbers were a lie.
Nathanson quotes Machiavellian strategy in advancing abortion, “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” p. 90.
Nathanson quotes Napoleon, “L’audace, toujours l’audace” (“Boldness, always boldness”). p. 90.
Nathanson was counted himself at one time, “a Reform Jew or atheist.” p. 107.
“Robert Lifton, a psychiatrist, examined the behavior of Nazi doctors who presided over the mass slaughter in the camps and then returned to ordinary family life at the end of the working day. He termed this phenomenon “doubling,” the division of the self into two functioning wholes. The [abortion] physicians I [employed] were…mercifully unburdened with ethical or moral baggage.” p.107.
“I had come to the conclusion that there was no reason for an abortion at any time; this person in the womb is a living human being, and we could not continue to wage war against the most defenseless of human beings. Having looked at the ultrasound, I could no longer go on as before.” p.128.
“Embryos are Dependent Creatures. So are fetuses. So are we all dependent; on the kindness or tolerance of others, and on various biological and medical devices…Surely, dependency is not a measure of moral standing…” p. 128.
The Silent Scream.
By 1984, however, I had begun to ask myself more questions about abortion: What actually goes on in an abortion? I had done many, but abortion is a blind procedure. The doctor does not see what he is doing. He puts an instrument into a uterus and he turns on a motor, and a suction machines goes on and something is vacuumed out; it ends up as a little pile of meat in a gauze bag, I wanted to know what happened, so in 1984 I said to a friend of mine, who was doing fifteen or maybe twenty abortions a day, “Look, do me a favor, Jay. Next Saturday, when you are doing all these abortions, put an ultrasound device on the mother and tape it for me.”
He did, and when he looked at the tapes with me in an editing studio, he was so affected that he never did another abortion…The tapes were amazing…weren’t of very good quality… and began to show it pro-life gatherings… p. 141
Nathanson then recounts Silent Scream, the movie,
I was speaking at pro-life meetings around the country on weekends, and the response to the tape was so intense and dramatic that finally I was approached by a man named Don Smith, who wanted to make my tape into a film. I agreed that it would be a good idea. That is how The Silent Scream, which generated so much furor, came to be made. We showed it for the first time in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on January 3, 1985. The reaction was instantaneous. Everybody was up in arms because The Silent Scream represented an enormous threat to the abortion forces and because it escalated the war (it’s not really a debate–we don’t debate each other; we scream at one another). For the first time, we had the technology and they had nothing. p.141 Emphasis mine.
Chapter 12 is titled To The Thanatoriums, an allusion the Walker Percy’s terrific book Thanatos.
Nathanson explains the reason for the acrimonious debate continuing still over abortion: It was decided by the courts and not through the public opinion in a public vote. Judges were legislating from the bench,
Like Dred Scott, Roe v. Wade…attempted to remove the abortion decision from politics and thus effectively radicalized the debate, discouraging compromise, political half-measures, or even edifying discussion. In particular it denied to pro-life forces the ordinary tools of politics…They were left with only two options, one largely illusory.
Politically, they could pursue a constitutional amendment banning abortion…But…in the absence of a national moral consensus on the issue, it is simply too large a step to be the first step. An America capable of passing a pro-life amendment would not need one; an America that needs one cannot possibly pass it. Emphasis mine. p. 178
Nathanson suggests another,
[A]lternative that seemed open to pro-lifers was to wage a war of conscience, to educate, advocate, and nonviolently protest the horror until the nation was moved to reconsider. Meanwhile, if the protesters, advocates, educators, and pamphleteers could not move the nation at least they might save individual mothers and children from the monster. p. 178
“Resistance to the injustice [of abortion] may take many forms. Henry David Thoreau wrote the following in his monumental treatise “Civil Disobedience”:
Unjust laws exist. Shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men generally under such a government as this think that they ought to wait until they think they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that if they should resist the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt?… Why does it always crucify Christ, and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels? p. 183
“Speaking on slavery and the unjust Fugitive Slave Law to a New England audience, Emerson on January 25, 1855, stated the following:
Now what is the effect of this evil government?
To Discredit government. When the public fails in its duty, private men take its place…When the American government and courts are false to their trust, men disobey the government, put it in the wrong; the government is forced into all manner of false and ridiculous attitudes. Men hear reason and truth from private men who have brave hearts and great minds. This is the compensation of bad government–the field it affords for illustrious men, and we have a great debt to the brave and faithful men who in the very hour and place of the evil act, made their protest for themselves and their countrymen, by word and by deed. They are justified and the law is condemned
Emerson was speaking specifically of the slavery controversy…but the majestic sweep of his rhetoric encompasses every phylum, every genus, every species of man’s inhumanity to man. It is strong rhetorical medicine; it applies in every sense to the principles at stake in the abortion conflict.” P. 184
“Nathanson cites Cardinal Newman: No one was ever converted by argument.” P. 195
“Father McCloskey supports me and encourages me by paraphrasing the words Pascal uttered four hundred years ago: “The cost of believing God is minimal; the consequences of doubt may be significant.” P 195.
The afterword was written by Rev. C. J. McCloskey III, Washington, D.C., December 12, 2000, Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Unborn,
You have just read one of the more important autobiographies of the twentieth century. The Hand of God has been made available to countless millions of readers…
During the late 1970’s Dr. Nathanson became a favorite target of the anti-life cultural forces in America, the subject of ridicule and satire in comic strips and news commentary, and the butt of jokes of television comedians for his change of heart and mind regarding the objective reality of abortion, which he came to regard as the taking of innocent human lives, comparable to the Dachau of Hitler, the Gulag of Stalin, or the Cambodia of Pol Pot. Since then, along with maintaining a distinguished obstetric medical practice and university teaching, he has given hundreds of lectures throughout the world in defense of the unborn. Now in his seventies, he recently received a degree in medical bio-ethics, continuing his professional preparation and better arming himself to defend the cause of human life.
Thank you (foot)notes,
The Hand of God, by Bernard Nathanson was published by Regnery Publishing, Inc., in 1996.
From Marginalizing Morons Aborting Morons and Thugs ,
A few months ago I read Aborting America by Dr. Bernard Nathanson. Chances are you, like me, have no idea who this guy is – and there’s a reason for that. The press won’t be talking about this guy anytime sooner than they’ll be mentioning the success of home-schooled children. That’s because Dr. Nathanson has morphed from being the Henry Ford of abortions to now a staunch anti-abortionist. Hence he’s no longer an “expert”.
Back in the early 1970s, Dr. Nathanson, et al, pioneered the legalized abortion movement. He not only performed and oversaw them (60,000?), he helped lead the political movements that liberalized and popularized the procedure.
There’s hardly a person around that doesn’t have a strong opinion on the subject of abortion, but how many of us have actually intensely researched the subject? Why not heed what this protagonist has concluded?
In 1979, Dr. Nathanson stopped performing abortions and wrote “Aborting America”. Here are some disjointed excerpts that I jotted down.
(Note – Lawrence Lader was another pioneer in the abortion legalization movement, “alpha” is the term Dr. Nathanson used to describe a fetus in the womb, and also pay attention to the insidious propaganda tactics whose employment he testifies to.)
“If we’re going to move abortion out of the books and into the streets, we’re going to have to recruit the feminists. Friedan [NOW] has got to put her troops into this thing – while she still has control of them.” (Lawrence Lader)
“…and the other thing we’ve got to do is bring the Catholic hierarchy out where we can fight them. That’s the real enemy. The biggest single obstacle to peace and decency throughout all of history.” (Lawrence Lader)
“Well, Larry, what do you think? 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.
“Historically,” he said after the usual throat-clearing ceremony, “every revolution has to have its villain. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s a king, a dictator, or a tsar, but it has to be someone, a person to rebel against. It’s easier for the people we want to persuade to perceive it this way.” I conceded that. It was good tactical strategy. “Now, in our case, it makes little sense to lead a campaign only against unjust laws, even though that’s what we are really doing. We have to narrow the focus, identify those unjust laws with a person or a group of people. A single person isn’t quite what we want, since that might excite sympathy for him. Rather, a small group of shadowy, powerful people. Too large a group would diffuse the focus, don’t you see?”
I nodded. Where was he going?
“There’s always been one group of people in this country associated with reactionary politics, behind-the-scenes manipulation, socially backward ideas. You know who I mean, Bernie.”
Not the Catholics again?
“Well, yes and no.” Throat-clearing again. A heavy thought coming. And I wasn’t wrong. It was his devil theory.
“Not just all Catholics. First of all, that’s too large a group, and for us to vilify them all would diffuse our focus. Secondly, we have to convince liberal Catholics to join us, a popular front as it were, and if we tar them all with the same brush, we’ll just antagonize a few who might otherwise have joined us. No, it’s got to be the Catholic hierarchy. That’s a small enough group to cone down on, and anonymous enough so that no names ever have to be mentioned, but everybody will have a fairly good idea whom we are talking about.”
His syntax was as careful and surgical as his daily shave. It was irrefutable. The only thing that was a little jarring, even to my untutored mind, was that the original nineteenth-century laws in New York and elsewhere had been placed on the books mostly by doctors when there were few Catholics around. I raised that question, hesitantly.
“Bernie, we’re talking politics, no? Watch and see how respectful of the facts the opposition will be once our campaign gets going. Just listen to the opposition.”
The opposition. Now I remembered. That was how Trotsky and his followers habitually referred to the Stalinists. Was this a purposeful designation, or was it coincidental? Larry thought everything – everything within his control – out very carefully. The opposition, though he did not say so, was the right wing, the Falange, the Tories, not to mention the Catholic hierarchy. And especially the Ruth Proskauer Smith axis.
“We’ve got to keep the women out in front,” he asserted. “You know what I mean.”…”And some blacks. Black women especially. Why are they so damn slow to see the importance of this whole movement to themselves?”
…A June 15th, 1972 dispatch from London to the New York Post reported on Karman’s claims to have invented the “two-minute abortion” and predicting that “the method is likely to find widespread use in Britain before the U.S.” Quoth Karman, his technique “would eventually be recognized as the only way to tackle the world’s population.”
One thing in Karman’s favor: He had the come right out and advocate abortion as a primary means of birth control while the rest of us altruists were dodging the issue.
[after a legal victory, i.e. a Nelson Rockefeller veto that overrode a NY state legislative measure to re-ban abortions]
Our law – our crusade- was safe for one more year! The next day Larry and I had an excited exchange of phone calls, chortling in particular over the way in which our trusted ally, the New York Times, had phrased its editorial on the veto. The fourth paragraph hooked the Catholic Church in for us again, keeping intact the carefully orchestrated image of the opposition forces. That reliable old strawman with the turned-around collar was still an irresistible target for the Times.
…There was a time when various Protestant denominations united to put through blue laws or Prohibition, so “legislating morality” is not simply a “Catholic issue”. As for abortion, opposition is not, in fact, as idiosyncratic or “Catholic” a concern as pro-abortionists would have us believe.
Anyone who is not innocent of history would realize that abortion has not been a “Catholic issue,” not even an exclusively Jewish or Christian issue. The Hippocratic Oath, the standard for Western medical ethics (though rarely read in U.S. medical schools in the past generation) is an expression of what might be called high paganism. The oath denies abortifacient relief to pregnant women. So do Judaism’s traditional rulings, and authorities in Islam, except for strict medical reasons.
James Mohr’s historical book points out that the original nineteenth century feminists were universally opposed to abortion, even after antisepsis had made it a safer procedure. They considered it yet another outrage that had been inflicted upon women by men who forced them to have abortions.
Daniel Callahan objects to the argument about “men legislating for women” because abortion, child-bearing, and child-rearing have consequences for everyone in our society, of both sexes. For that matter, as a “women’s issue,” abortion works against the pro-choicers in that virtually every U.S. poll over the past decade has shown that women are significantly more anti-abortion than men are.
How many deaths were we talking about when abortion was illegal? In N.A.R.A.L. we generally emphasized the drama of the individual case, not the mass statistics, but when we spoke of the latter it was always “5,000 to 10,000 deaths a year.” I confess that I knew the figures were totally false, and I suppose the others did too if they stopped to think about it. But in the “morality” of our revolution, it was a useful figure, widely accepted, so why go out of our way to correct it with honest statistics? The overriding concern was to get the laws eliminated, and anything that was within reason that had to be done was permissible. Statistics on abortion deaths were fairly reliable, since bodies are difficult to hide, but not all these deaths were reported as such if the attending doctor wanted to protect a family by listing another cause of death. In 1967, with moderate A.L.I.-type laws in three states, the federal government listed only 160 deaths from illegal abortion. In the last year before the Blackmun era began, 1972, the total was only 39 deaths. Christopher Tietze estimated 1,000 maternal deaths as the outside possibility in an average year before legalization; the actual total was probably closer to 500.
While the Supreme Court, altering historic protections, defines the concept of “person” in order to permit the elimination of alpha, we in science are continually widening the concept of life. In the far reaches of our past history, paleontology is looking for the line that marks the human community off from non-humanity by studying primordial remains, the true-to-life equivalent of novelist Vercors and his “tropis.” …Meanwhile, in the far reaches of space, radioastronomy is listening for bleeps from beyond in an anxious search for other humanoid beings “out there” that may be transmitting their codes to us.
If “back then” and “out there,” why not listen “in here,” inside the human womb? We must expand our definition, our search for humanity, and technology and science are forcing us to do this. As yet the general public is incompletely informed, but eventually the research wing of medicine will pull society along with it. With alpha it is just as if an intelligent race of beings is transmitting massive electrical impulses from a distant star, and we are not receiving them…or we are refusing to receive them.
First trimester – For the first twelve weeks or so, the state is forbidden to control abortion in any way. The “woman and her physician” are granted full power. The argument is that abortion is safer during this period than normal childbirth (true), so that the state has no reason to regulate abortion in order to protect the mother’s health (false). The state regulates other medical procedures and facilities that involve even lower mortality rates, so how can it wash its hands of abortion? Even barber shops are licensed, and nobody ever died of a haircut. Abortion clinics need approval from the fire department and the housing inspector. It seems we should regulate everything in an abortion clinic except abortion.
Until birth, alpha is invisible, except to obstetricians, who are the people who generally see (and diagnostically perceive) alpha before birth. If the abdominal wall of the pregnant woman were transparent, what kind of abortion laws might we have?
There is a strange bit of illogic here, too. The feminists have waged a salutary drive to bring the father into the birth process, from prenatal exams through the delivery room. At the same time they would exclude the man from the abortion decision and claim that sector of pregnancy for themselves.
…Since the father has been stripped of all rights under the Planned Parenthood ruling, I do not see how the law can continue to hold him responsible for child support either before of after birth.
…Poverty justifications are cited in a society with more wealth than any other society has ever enjoyed.
…If we say that we must destroy alpha “for its own good” (so that it will not live in poverty when born), we accept the moral reasoning that social problems could be erased by eliminating people.
One does not morally discard the legitimacy of a law because of the bad consequences for those who disobey it. Taking the worst case, even if a certain number of women die because they circumvent an anti-abortion law (which, as I have stated, need no longer happen), this is not sufficient reason to rule out the law…People may die robbing banks, but we do not legalize bankrobbing. (Nor do good consequences justify an illegitimate law…)
…It had always seemed clear to me that the object of abortion was only to rid the unwilling woman of the burden of pregnancy. If a living child resulted, it was perfectly obvious that it was to be cared for like any other premature baby. There was no conflict of medical purpose or ethics in that policy, but when I presented that there were so many furrowed brows that the place looked like a recently plowed field of foreheads.
A committeewoman from Iowa, hawk-faced with prosecutorial mien, piped up: “What about hysterotomy, doctor? Isn’t that surer than salting out?” She meant surer to kill. The pro-abortion women seemed disturbed by the thought that a stray alpha or two might manage to live. I replied that hysterotomy would not “guarantee” death and, on the contrary always produces a live birth because it is nothing but a miniature Caesarian section. It also has an unacceptably high “complication” rate for the mother. The Iowan sat there puzzled as if I had spoken in Esperanto. What were these people thinking? Were we to take living fetuses fresh from the uterine wound and wring their necks?
It is also curious that many hospitals do not use prostaglandins even though they are safer for the mother, and probably for exactly the reason that they are safer for alpha, too. They do not want to cope with the live births. It seems clear to me that prostaglandins ought to be used in preference to saline because the method is healthier for alpha, and is no worse and in some instance better for the mother.
I want to relay another of Dr. Nathanson’s points that I don’t see in my notes.
How many times have you heard the cry that banning abortions will result in back-alley, coat hanger-induced deaths? Dr. Nathanson calls this the most specious of arguments. Even if abortion was banned today, illegal abortionists would use the “safe” (for the mother) technology that doctors currently use. So dead pregnant women in back alleys is a propagandistic ruse of the highest order – yet multitudes swallow it whole.
Also, that Lawrence Lader was portrayed as quite a scumbag. The guy was independently wealthy and used all of his idle time to facilitate the destruction of other people’s unborn children. Note Lader’s deft use of propaganda and the media to achieve his ends. He manipulated the New York Times like puddy in his hands and chortled with glee. Also note his naked condescension towards blacks and women, those ungrateful recipients of his paternalism. According to Nathanson, Lawrence Lader was the consummate male chauvinist. Lader wouldn’t so much as let his own wife hold an opinion or speak among mixed company. When the Nathansons would go over to the Lader apartment, it was customary for Larry to offer and get Bernard a drink without even saying hello to Nathanson’s wife, never mind offer her a beverage. Lawrence Lader was the prototypical trust funded, elitist, misanthropic hypocrite.
He was a staunch socialist to boot!
Though you’d never know any of this from reading whitewashed eulogies like this.
In 2001, Dr. Nathanson wrote another book, The Hand of God which I read after “Aborting America”. Below find a few more excerpts I jotted down.
We live in an age of defining personhood upward so that fewer and fewer of us make the cut, an age of virtual abjuring of moral values, so that we can treat people like objects – and, yes, abortion has helped us learn to do that; and an age of cracking pillars of certainty – churches, schools, and political institutions – so that everything, including your life, my friend, is up for discussion… the methodical suffocation of authority and the hopeless balkanization of normative ethics…It is as Alisdair McIntyre so aptly put it: the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have been governing us for some time.
Lader (Lawrence) was a fascinating farrago of paradox. He was economically secure, having been left a considerable trust fund upon the death of his father many years before. Yet he had worked for Vito Marcantonio, the only card-carrying communist ever to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Our favorite tack was to blame the church for the death of every woman from a botched abortion. There were perhaps three hundred or so deaths from criminal abortions annually in the United States in the 1960s, but NARAL in its press releases claimed to have data that supported a figure of five thousand. Fortunately, the respected biostatistician Dr. Christopher Tietze was our ally. Though he never actually staked himself to a specific number, he never denied the authenticity of the claims.
One of Lader’s greatest assets in this lightening campaign was also the most striking of the paradoxes in his personality. Though posing as a champion of the poor and powerless, he led a life of conspicuous affluence. Playing champion of the little people, a paradigmatic populist, he nursed a fine disdain for the common man. He often quoted to me the passage from Machiavelli that appeared to be his homing star:
The people resemble a wild beast which, naturally fierce and accustomed to living in the woods, has been brought up – as it were – in a prison and in servitude; and having by accident got its liberty, not being accustomed to search for its food and not knowing where to conceal itself, becomes the prey of the first who seeks to incarcerate it again.
At this writing, there are at least fifteen thousand abortions after the twenty-first week every year. Today, at twenty-one weeks, the baby is considered viable. These are not even abortions, they are murdering premature babies. In the mid-seventies, I would be up on one floor, putting the hypotonic saline into a woman twenty-three weeks pregnant, and on another floor down, I would have someone in labor at twenty-three weeks, and I would be trying to salvage this baby.
After my exposure to ultrasound, I began to rethink the prenatal phase of life. Gradually, I began to understand that two hundred or three hundred years ago, childhood had not been understood as a special time in our lives and that in the seventeenth century, children as young as five years old were made to work in factories. There was no recognition of the phenomenon of childhood or of their needs until the last hundred or so years. Adolescence, adulthood, senescence – they are all bands in the continuing spectrum of life. When I began to study fetology, it dawned on me, finally, that the prenatal nine months are just another band in the spectrum of life.
An America capable of passing a pro-life amendment would not need one; an America that needs one cannot possibly pass it.
The networks have also refused to allow pro-life groups to buy time to air even the most innocuous pro-life ads, i.e., ads that do not even mention abortion but simply celebrate the choice of life.
Koppel queried her as to whether Reno believed there was a conspiracy afoot to systematically kill off all the abortion providers in the United States.
Nobody could read these books and not be impressed by Dr. Nathanson’s intellect. In fact, I saw a few comments on Amazon complaining about his use of “arcane words”. God forbid someone force them to open a dictionary and learn a new word!
His family had a very severe heritage – his father particularly so. Life was hard, women were Marginalized, and paternalism reined. Nathanson ends up blaming his father for many of his shortcomings. In fact, he claims that he couldn’t be frank about his feelings in “Aborting America” because he father was still alive. Nathanson was born an orthodox Jew, spent much of his adult life in a religious vacuum, and will die a converted, devout Catholic.
Nathanson’s books have value beyond their intellectual and scientific treatment of abortion. They provide a window into Americana, a glimpse into the Jewish-American culture of yesteryear, an exposition on the workings of an ascendant Big Media, and an illustration of how special interest politics can rupture the moral fiber of our nation.
If it’s not terminated before birth, perhaps the baby will be “pro-choice”. Stupidity is an apple that doesn’t fall too far from the tree. However, note that the baby’s grandmother wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about abortion.
Abortion, infertility, and infanticide have been, throughout history, not only hallmarks of every wealthy civilization – they’ve also been harbingers of decadence and decline.