Basic Books: Bernard Nathanson’s Story

Aborting America, by Bernard Nathanson, M.D. (Life Cycle Books, 1979): check your local library. Check your church’s bookshelf. Check Amazon. This one is hard to find, but it is worth the search. Nathanson is not just a man who left the abortion industry. He was a doctor who helped create the American abortion industry as we know it today. Later, coming to terms with the facts about the developing child in utero, he stopped doing abortions and started fighting them.

No one else has a story just like his. Nathanson was among the founders of the National Association for the Reform of Abortion Laws, which over the years has morphed into NARAL Pro-Choice America. He worked with like-minded people to change laws against abortion, going so far as to invent statistics about women dying from illegal abortions when the actual statistics weren’t adequate for NARAL’s purposes. He was a physician – an OB/GYN, no less – and when he spoke about the evils of banning abortion, people listened. (That fatal reverence for medical professionals who advocate abortion persists to this day, as I have seen to my sorrow in Concord.) He was involved in 75,000 abortions himself.

An atheist, it was not the religious pro-life arguments that reached him. Technology snuck up on him. Ultrasound images of preborn children forced him to acknowledge the nature of the work he had been doing.

At the time Nathanson wrote, Roe had only been in effect for a few years. His change of mind, when it came, was complete: “Abortion is the most atrocious holocaust in the history of the United States.” He would eventually produce an important short film called The Silent Scream, showing ultrasound images of a preborn child during an abortion. He thought for sure that would bring people around, with its scientific, clinical exposition of what went on during the procedure.

The Silent Scream did not end the debate, of course. Nathanson was undeterred, spending the rest of his days in the pro-life cause. (He died in 2011 at the age of 84.) He produced a second film, Eclipse of Reason, about late-term abortions. He traveled extensively, speaking and writing for as many people as he could reach. That all came after Aborting America, though.

For its historical information alone, this book is vital background information for anyone trying to figure out how abortion politics developed the way they did in the U.S. It’s also an interesting look at a man whose “second act” was just beginning when this book was published.

Basic Book: Voices of Post-Abortive Women

Aborted Women: Silent No More by David C. Reardon. 1987: Crossway Books, ISBN 0891074511.  Reissued 2002: Elliot Institute, ISBN 0964895722

I have the older edition on my shelf. It was the first thing I ever read about post-abortive women, beyond a few brochures from an outfit called Women Exploited by Abortion. With WEBA’s cooperation, Reardon surveyed 252 women in 42 states about their abortion decisions and the aftermath. The survey results would have fit into a short magazine article. What makes the book so enlightening and necessary are the many stories recounted by and about the women who agreed to speak to Reardon.

Reardon surveyed 252 women in 42 states. That’s a fairly small sample, and to a degree it was a self-selected group, since the women were part of WEBA. The stories and the numbers are powerful nonetheless. All the women cited in the book were determined to be “silent no more”. Their stories had, and continue to have, urgency and importance.

One of Reardon’s statistics stands out even today: over two-thirds of the women surveyed felt rushed to make the abortion decision. It’s ironic that New Hampshire’s lawmakers are arguing now over whether a 24-hour waiting period is too great an imposition on a woman’s right to choose abortion.

This book is available on Amazon but might be hard to find in bookstores. Look on your church’s bookshelf. This one made a splash when it was first published, and a lot of faith communities with active pro-life ministries picked up the book.

Basic Books by Rita Marker and Abby Johnson

I expect this to become a recurring feature in this blog. I’ll recommend books that have influenced me in my pro-life journey.  I’d like to hear your recommendations as well.

Today, it’s something old & something new.

Deadly Compassion: the Death of Ann Humphry and the Truth About Euthanasia by Rita Marker (1995, William Morrow & Co., ISBN 9780688122218; also available as PDF download at www.patientsrightscouncil.org/site/deadly-compassion/)
Unplanned: the Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey Across the Life Line by Abby Johnson with Cindy Lambert
(2010, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., ISBN 9781414339399; also available as e-book)

Deadly Compassion
Don’t be put off by the ponderous title. This is the best one-volume briefing available on the pro-euthanasia movement.  The style of writing makes for easy reading, despite the heavy topic. Rita Marker is founder and director of the Patients Rights Council, formerly the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force, based in Ohio. In the course of her work, she met Ann Humphry, whose husband Derek Humphry was a leading light of the Hemlock Society. At first on opposite sides of a seemingly impassable philosophical divide, the two women formed an unlikely friendship that ended only with Ann’s tragic death, the circumstances of which were closely tied to the movement founded by her by-then-estranged husband.

Chapters alternate between the story of the friendship and the history of pro-euthanasia activities. At first somewhat jarring, this arrangement becomes smoother after the first few chapters. By the end, which is harsh even though the reader can see it coming, the personal and the political have merged to devastating effect. Marker does not resort to melodrama, although you might be misled into thinking so by some of the jacket blurbs. Marker’s smart enough to know that the bare facts are dramatic enough on their own.

Seventeen years after publication of this book, euthanasia advocates have scored some serious victories here and abroad. Reading Deadly Compassion is one good way to prepare to participate in the ongoing debate. Marker’s work with the Patients Rights Council continues today.

Unplanned
You’ve probably heard by now of Abby Johnson. A former Planned Parenthood clinic director in Texas, Johnson is now a full-time pro-life activist. She wants the world to know what PP looks like from the inside, and she is tenacious in calling for examination of PP’s finances.

Hers was not an overnight conversion. She went to work for PP out of compassionate motives, believing that women’s health was a priority there.  Two experiences in particular forced her to question what she was doing.  She was once asked to assist at an ultrasound-guided abortion to terminate a 13-week pregnancy. The image of the preborn child as the abortion was completed left her shaken. Later, as a clinic director, she was shocked to be given an “abortion quota” by PP, which clearly put the bottom line ahead of women’s health.

While this was going on inside PP, an exceptional ongoing pro-life witness was maintained outside the facilities. Protesters who were abusive toward PP workers had only increased solidarity within PP. A group called Coalition for Life took a different approach, relying on peaceful prayer and gentle communication. Gradually, as Johnson saw Coalition members outside her facility day after day, she got to know some of them. The personal connection was critical as Johnson attempted to come to terms with her doubts about her work.

The Coalition is the group responsible for the 40 Days for Life campaigns nationwide, and Johnson’s story is a testament to their effectiveness. Coalition leaders (including David Bereit, who will be visiting NH later this year) became mentors and friends to Johnson, standing by her as she came to her decision to leave PP.

From the Foreword: “I reveal my story not because I am proud of it. I am not. But my thinking and choices are not unlike those of so many people I have encountered. And until we each set aside our own preferences for how we wish others would think and behave, or how we assume others think and behave, we won’t be able to understand those with whom we differ in order to engage in real dialogue and discover truth.”