First, if you are unfamiliar with the amazing story of Bernard Nathanson (1926-2011), you'll need some background:
In the 1969, Bernard Nathanson, an OB/GYN doctor, helped co-found the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (now known as NARAL Pro-Choice America) with Larry Lader. They organized lobbying and demonstrations for the repeal of all restrictions on abortions, as well as worked to exploit loopholes in the current laws to expand access to abortion. Bernard Nathanson himself performed abortions and even developed new abortion techniques and, from 1971-1972, was the director of the Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health in New York, which at the time was the largest abortion clinic in the world.
In the early 1970s, however, with the advancement of ultrasound technology, Bernard Nathanson's pro-abortion thinking was challenged. In 1974, he wrote a piece for the New England Journal of Medicine called "Deeper into Abortion" in which he explained: "I am deeply troubled by my own increasing certainty that I had in fact presided over 60,000 deaths"
In 1975, Bernard Nathanson resigned from NARAL and became a leading pro-life advocate. And in 1979, he published Aborting America, in which he explained the pro-abortion movement from the inside and why he changed his mind.
Though he eventually joined the Catholic Church at the age of 70 in 1996, Bernard Nathanson was a self-identified atheist when he published Aborting America in 1979, which he explains towards the beginning of the book:
I have never entered a synagogue again since [my Bar Mitzvah], nor, may I add, any other house of worship. My father undermined religiosity in me so continually and so artfully that I was left with nothing to believe in. Consequently, I am not only a convinced atheist but have never been particularly interested in organized religion. 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 (pg. 6)Now for the part about the Catholic Church; I'll let the passages speak for themselves.
Before co-founding NARAL together, Bernard Nathanson and Larry Lader spent months meeting together to discuss ideas of how to repeal abortion laws. In this excerpt from his book Aborting America (published 1979), Nathanson describes one conversation they had in 1968 while driving home from a short trip with their two families:
Then Larry brought out his favorite whipping-boy.
"...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."
He held forth on that theme through most of the drive home. It was a comprehensive and chilling indictment of the poisonous influence of Catholicism in secular affairs from its inception until the day before yesterday. I was far from an admirer of the church's role in the world chronicle, but his insistent, uncompromising recitation brought to mind the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It passed through my mind that if one had substituted "Jewish" for "Catholic," it would have been the most vicious anti-Semitic tirade imaginable. I attempted a mild remonstrance.
"But, Larry, the Catholic Church isn't all bad. Don't forget that among other things they did more or less keep the intellectual world together in the Dark Ages."
Even his wife, Joan, a diminutive Scotswoman with a sense of humor and booming laugh, joined me in temperate dissent, and this distaff resistance seemed to annoy him unreasonably:
"Now honey, please. Let's not regress. I think you and I have covered that subject pretty thoroughly before, so no backsliding if you don't mind." She subsided, but I was still alive.
"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.
"No." (pg. 33)Nathanson describes another conservation that he and Lader had early on in the strategic planning for the newly formed NARAL:
...Larry read me my last basic lesson in the political primer.
"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 really are 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 and be valuable show-pieces for us. No, it's got to be the Catholic hierarchy. That's a small enough group to cone [sic] 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 as 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 Catholic around. I raised that question, hesitantly.
"Bernie, we're talking politics now. Watch and see how respectful of facts the opposition will be once our campaign gets going. Just listen to the opposition."
[...] For their part, of course, the Catholic bishops were to play right into our hands, by their heavy-handed politicking, making abortion appear to be purely a "Catholic issue" rather than an interreligious one. They also weakened the credibility of the anti-abortion forces because of their unflinching opposition to the major alternatives to abortion: artificial birth control and voluntary sterilization. (pg. 51-52)