Years ago, I received a last-minute invitation to speak at two pro-life conferences in California, filling in for the scheduled speaker, who had taken ill. His name was Dr. Bernard Nathanson.
Not many years earlier, Dr. Nathanson would have been the last man invited to a pro-life gathering. Director for years of the largest abortion clinic in the world, he was responsible, by his own account, for more than 75,000 deaths of pre-born children. He co-founded the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, and was one of the most outspoken voices in support of legalized abortion. Roe v. Wade was a personal triumph for him.
God miraculously used technology to change Dr. Nathanson’s mind. When developments in ultrasound technology in the early 1970s gave him his first glimpse of what was actually happening in a woman’s womb, he started seriously questioning his own beliefs.
"I began to rethink the prenatal phase of life," he wrote. "It dawned on me, finally, that the prenatal nine months are just another band in the spectrum of life. To disrupt or abort a life at this point is intolerable — it is a crime. I don’t make any bones about using that word: Abortion is a crime."
The epiphany itself was not enough for Dr. Nathanson. Like St. Paul, he became the ultimate opponent of the cause he had once championed. He wrote books (Aborting America), made movies (The Silent Scream, The Eclipse of Reason), spoke up loudly and often at every venue he could find — exposing the horrors of the abortion industry and pleading for the protection of life.
He influenced millions — and in so doing, saved more lives than we’ll ever know.
A lifelong, self-described "Jewish atheist," Dr. Nathanson found Jesus Christ late in life. When he died in February, at age 84, his funeral mass was held at Manhattan’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Thinking on his life, and its still-echoing impact, I return to a question that has haunted me for years: Why are "cultural Christians" — those born to believing parents and raised in the faith — so often less willing to stand for God than converts like Dr.
I was honored to stand in at those California conferences for this heroic gentleman. But, I am more honored to have stood with him in defending the sanctity of life. And I pray earnestly — as, no doubt, he did for the day when thousands of those who passively, silently share our faith, will find the courage and the passion to stand boldly for the Truth we all know so well.
John 15:5 Apart from Christ, we can do nothing.