February 24th, 2011
Inspired by A pro-choice choice: Shift course or lose (Washington Post 2/20/11) and Doctor who performed abortions later decried the procedure (Washington Post 2/24/11).“Having dealt firsthand with ill and injured victims of back-alley abortions, in 1969 he helped found the organizing now known as NARAL Pro-Choice America… But new technology, including ultrasound imagery and recordings of fetal brain and heart function, caused him to quit providing abortion services… But as obstetrical chief at New York’s St. Luke’s Hospital from 1972 to 1978, he continued to oversee and perform abortions he deemed medically necessary” – Washington Post obituary
“For the first time, we could really see the human fetus, measure it, watch it, and indeed bond with it and love it.” – Nathanson in his 1996 autobiography The Hand of God: A Journey from Death to Life by the Abortion Doctor Who Changed His Mind
Abortions can’t be made to cease,
But we should strive to make them significantly decrease.
To which I’d add that their allocation should be fair.
Unborn children were invisible before,
But now it’s the women society doesn’t see anymore.
Medical technology now shows us severed fetal limbs,
But we forget back-alley abortions’ now invisible victims.
You were once, Dr. Nathanson, by their plight moved
Until they were from public view removed.
We poor mortals will never know all things,
Nor fully count the cost an action brings.
(Sometimes, God’s hand
Works in ways we don’t understand.)
But we must try to see both sides
And make sure that compassion our judgment guides.
I hope that you now have found release.
I hope that you now can Rest in Peace.
No activist or poster-child is more beloved by a movement than one who has “come over” from the other side.
Abortionist-turned-anti-abortion rights crusader Dr. Bernard Nathanson died on Monday. He performed or oversaw 60,000 abortions, but then converted to the anti-abortion rights cause after improved medical technology confronted him with the increasing visibility of his “victims.”
Abortion is wrong. But making a woman have a baby she doesn’t want is also wrong. Which is more wrong? That’s a hard decision, and that’s why current abortion law provides hard-and-fast rules (yes in first trimester, maybe in second, no in third, except for a few stark exceptions like rape and incest) within the bounds of which the woman has the right to make that decision. Why don’t conservatives, who decry the “nanny” state, trust women to make that decision?
Nathanson became an abortion rights advocate and a provider because he witnessed first-hand how women suffered in the days of illegal, back-alley, and coat-hanger abortions. The images of those victims, coupled with the growing voice of women in society, are what caused abortion policy to change.
Now, it is the absence of those victims, coupled with the increasing visibility of abortion’s unborn victims, that has caused it to (in part) change back. Thanks to Roe v. Wade, those women no longer exist. They are hypothetical. Invisible.
But we see those aborted babies (and yes, they increasingly appear to us as babies, rather than the less personal “fetuses”).
Pro-lifers, I respect you. Have that baby. Choose life. Encourage your friends and relatives to do so. Support proven alternatives to abortion (sex ed, birth control, etc.). But stop trying to change the law to take that difficult choice away from others. And have the common decency to not rejoice in the deaths of your political opponents, just as the pro-choice movement does not rejoice in Dr. Nathanson’s passing.
And Dr. Nathanson: Bless you for having seen both sides of the dilemma and both groups of victims, albeit at different times. May you now, finally, Rest in Peace.