Dr. Bernard Nathanson: Lying for the Revolution
The death of Dr. Bernard Nathanson has undoubtedly affected all of us who are dedicated to the pro-life cause. In the decades since his defection from the pro-abortion camp and his conversion to the Catholic faith, he was one of the nation’s most outspoken defenders of innocent human life. Among the many contributions to the cause for which we can thank Dr. Nathanson is his exposure of the deceptions and falsehoods employed by the pro-abortion movement – some of which he invented himself – in order to legitimize abortion in the eyes of the public and set the stage for its legalization in the 1960’s and 70’s.
And it is quite interesting, and perhaps even providential, that in remembering the life and works of Dr. Nathanson, we can consider how they affect the ongoing debate among Catholics over the use of lies and deceptions in order to undermine the pro-abortion movement and industry.
Many pro-lifers have read Confessions of an Ex-Abortionist, an article by Dr. Nathanson that one can find all over the Internet. In this article Nathanson admits that, as an abortionist and as a political propagandist for the abortion movement, he was responsible for the fabrication of facts and statistics that were designed to play upon the public’s heartstrings and get them to change their position on abortion. To take only one example of many:
We aroused enough sympathy to sell our program of permissive abortion by fabricating the number of illegal abortions done annually in the U.S. The actual figure was approaching 100,000 but the figure we gave to the media repeatedly was 1,000,000. Repeating the big lie often enough convinces the public.
I strongly encourage all of those reading this post to read Nathanson’s confession in full, to get a true appreciation at the level of deception involved in legitimizing abortion.
What interests me here, however, are not the particular lies exposed, but rather the reason for telling them in the first place. In his book Hand of God, Dr. Nathanson explains that he and his pro-abortion colleagues were involved in a “revolution”:
[We] were the radicals, the bolsheviks [sic]. We would settle for nothing less than striking down all existing abortion statutes and substituting abortion on demand. (88)
I also find it interesting, as a side note, that Nathanson mentions how the generation that wrought the sexual revolution was “the most spoiled, pampered and politically-ignorant (though well-educated) generation in this nation’s history.” (89) Nathanson’s colleague, Lawrence Lader, would play this debauched generation like a fiddle, frequently citing Machiavelli and taking great glee and pleasure in using dishonest and manipulative tactics to recruit fools for his cause.
What is obvious is that the entire movement of radical feminists and abortionists felt entirely justified in lying boldly and repeatedly to the public. They believed every bit as fervently in the necessity and even the goodness of abortion as we do in the sanctity of human life.
Now, I know some will think it is wrong, and even mean and reprehensible, to compare people who misrepresent themselves to Planned Parenthood to people who lied to the public repeatedly about abortion statistics. But I bring this up to underscore a point being made by others who have agreed with me on this, such as Mark Shea and Christopher Tollefsen – that the pro-life movement should not embrace the methods used by our undeniably wicked enemies.
Frankly the most disturbing thing about this episode – aside from a willingness by many to make the most absurd arguments imaginable in the face of irrefutable facts – is the reason why it is done. Back in the 1960s, the radical feminists and the abortionists faced the same dilemma the pro-life movement does today: most people are opposed to, or indifferent to, or even lukewarm in their support for our position. The 60’s radicals believed that they had to lie to the public to change their minds, since the truth was that there was no widespread perception that abortion ought to be legal or any popular movement already in existence. It had to be totally manufactured.
For several decades now, it has been the pro-life movement that has been on the losing end. And for much of that time, we have used the weapons of truth and righteousness in our cause. We have shown, time and again, and in large public and media displays, the graphic truth of abortion. We have demolished the illogical, selfish, and morally-depraved arguments of the abortionists and their allies, we have discredited the phony “science” they employ. All of this is evidenced in the fact that few if any people deny that human life does begin at conception, and that the argument first shifted ground to the absurd “personhood” position (it is a human being, but not a “person” they said), and now just crass utilitarianism in defense of Mother Earth (too many people, too many carbon emitters). All of these arguments have failed.
But abortion remains legal, largely because most people don’t care that our arguments are logical and true. They like abortion because it is convenient for them. They’ve gotten used to it. And that’s all that matters to the majority of people. Enter Live Action. The biggest fiction of this entire debate is that Live Action’s undercover stings “expose” evil at Planned Parenthood. Everyone knows that Planned Parenthood performs abortions. The problem is not that people don’t know, but rather that they don’t care.
So in response to this apathy, Live Action and those who think as they do believe that it is wholly justifiable to create a perception in the mind of the public that Planned Parenthood is engaged in other, additional things that this mass of inert heathens actually does find morally objectionable – underage prostitution, sex trafficking, etc. It is actually a sad commentary on how comfortable society has become with abortion, and how necessary it has become in the view of so many, that tactics such as this are the only way people can see anything wrong with an abortion provider.
I don’t believe that sex-trafficking is Planned Parenthood’s official policy. I believe there are grounds for plausible deniability. More importantly, I believe that when there is a demand for something, especially if it is legal, then the laws of economics and common sense say that there will be a supply. In fact, if abortion is not only legal, but as many feminist and socialist radicals believe, a “democratic right”, then it may follow that the state has an obligation to provide them. They insist that the right to an education, to health care, to other things translate into a duty for the state to provide them, and the Democrats often agree. Abortion may well be next, especially if the ambiguously funded Planned Parenthood goes down.
You can get rid of PP, but you can’t get rid of the demand for abortion, or its legality. A vacuum will open up that will necessarily be filled, possibly with a stronger entity because little if any actual damage has been done to the belief people hold in the general idea of the necessity, convenience or goodness of legal abortion. Only their faith in a particular organization providing it has been shaken. We have to be blind not to see this.
And blindness is exactly what we encounter from most on this issue. I’m not even talking about Lila Rose, who I honestly believe did some of these things in good faith. I’m talking about her defenders. Instead of looking at the long-term picture and realizing that our success as a movement is in no small part based upon our credibility, we’ve decided that if mass deception worked for the abortionists, it may work for us. Even if we don’t state that explicitly, it is what we are really saying when we defend this sort of thing.
But the big difference is that pro-life Christians don’t know how to be efficient Bolsheviks by and large, and they wouldn’t be able to learn and implement these methods without losing their souls. To justify lying but to, say, oppose assassination or some other expedient means, means that you fight with one hand tied behind your back, with one foot on the firm ground of righteousness and the other in the ambiguous swamp of sin.
Not only will you lose on Earth, but you’ll displease God as well, who demands total obedience and total surrender. We can be on our knees before Our Lord, or we can be on our feet slugging it out with the revolutionaries, but we can’t do both. This, I learned, as a former socialist revolutionary.