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.

17 Responses to Dr. Bernard Nathanson: Lying for the Revolution

  • Martin M. says:

    “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.” Certainly a tragic indictment, but not entirely untrue for any other species of evil. Today, logic, truth, public acceptance or great affection for abortion etc. are no longer required to secure its status as the law of the land. Most people don’t like abortion, women who enter abortion clinics know that its wrong, fathers who pressure their partners into abortion know its wrong. Nobody really liked passing by slave auctions either, but in the end, it beat paying a fair wage. Abortion as a right is protected by a pretty high gate (the US Supreme Court). Opposition against abortion is muted by federal law (privacy zones, RICO, etc.). But abortions biggest defender is the devil or some other high up demonic muk-ity-muk (what else could sustain such an absurdity). My view is that evil is predictably constant measured globally. Although constant it can not linger for too long in one place as it tends to burn too deep a whole in the fabric of society. Just wait until, thanks to abortion, there are not enough young people to pay for social security for the ageing babyboomers: Abortion will be made illegal and the government will sponser global kidnapping of young teens on the verge of entering the workforce (or some other thing just too horrible to clearly forsee). People will see the error of their ways once the error is no longer beneficial to them.

    sorry for grammer, spelling etc.

  • Roger says:

    I’m afraid I just don’t see how defending the tactics of Live Action and Lila Rose puts the credibility of the pro-life movement at risk. Unlike NARAL, Live Action have not made any misrepresentations about the unborn or abortion. And the misrepresentations to Planned Parenthood they made didn’t cause any harm to anyone. The damage to Planned Parenthood was caused by its own staffers who were obviously more than happy to break the law.

    The bottom line here is that Live Action didn’t do anything different than what an undercover police officer or federal agent normally does, which is misrepresent their identities to people whom they believe has or is committing a crime. Surely, you can’t be suggesting that in defending the tactics of these law enforcement officials that anti-crime advocates are placing the legitimacy of the rule of law at risk. That would just be ridiculous. And yet, that seems to be exactly what you’re saying in your assertion that the lies conveyed by Live Action are conceptually equivalent to the lies conveyed by NARAL, and as such, should not be defended by those of us who are pro-life and Catholic.

  • Joe Hargrave says:


    “I’m afraid I just don’t see how defending the tactics of Live Action and Lila Rose puts the credibility of the pro-life movement at risk.”

    If nothing else, I think it is an admission that we cannot win the debate in the public arena, so we are trying to win on a fabricated technicality.

    “Unlike NARAL, Live Action have not made any misrepresentations about the unborn or abortion.”

    But they have made misrepresentations about abortion providers. As much as I despise what PP does, if you’re going to tell me, as many Republicans are now, that PP deserves to be defunded because it has been shown that it participates in sex-trafficking, I’m going to call that a dubious claim at best, and an outright falsehood at worst.

    If the line is really crossed from saying that PP has been negligent in some of its practices to saying that it is involved in a conspiracy to aid pimps, I think you’ve crossed the line into bearing false witness. And that is because the truth – that it murders unborn children every day – just doesn’t bother most people enough to do anything about it.

    While we’re on it, I definitely think Live Action crossed the line into false witness when it tricked PP employees into going along with this ridiculous scheme to accept donations for abortions that would only be used for black babies and then crying “racist.” I certainly think that damaged the credibility of the pro-life movement and displays a horrifying disregard for truth.

    “And the misrepresentations to Planned Parenthood they made didn’t cause any harm to anyone.”

    The ends do not justify the means, and a lie that leads someone into a crime or a sin does actually harm them.

    “The damage to Planned Parenthood was caused by its own staffers who were obviously more than happy to break the law.”

    If I hired some actors, I bet I could get them to convince you to break the law, or anyone else. This is why entrapment is wicked, and why I reject it entirely.

    When the police sting someone, to begin to answer your points below, they have to have some reason to believe that the people they are stinging are actually doing what the sting is supposed to uncover.

    This was done just to create a situation in which PP would agree to do something that people actually cared about, since they don’t care about the murder of millions of unborn children.

    “Surely, you can’t be suggesting that in defending the tactics of these law enforcement officials that anti-crime advocates are placing the legitimacy of the rule of law at risk. That would just be ridiculous. ”

    Universally? No. I think if you misrepresent yourself for the objective of gathering evidence, after having probable cause, that you may have a moral case to make as a Catholic – but I may well be wrong about that. I say nothing definitive on that because I am just not certain. It seems to me to be wrong, but I can remain open to the possibility that it may be right, and one day I hope to get to the bottom of it.

    But there are SOME things the police do that I DO find to be morally reprehensible – entrapment. I think Chris Hansen of Dateline and Perverted Justice, for instance, working with the police to entrap pedophiles, are absolutely wrong. They lure people into giving into their lusts and they break them. You can argue that they took predators off the streets; I say they used these people for sensationalist purposes.

    Bottom line is, dishonesty stinks. It is rotten. And I believe it is displeasing to God. And please no more Old Testament stories. If God speaks to you personally and approves of a lie you want to tell, let us know. Otherwise we have absolutely no grounds for telling deliberate lies, especially not when they are planned well in advanced and are aggressive.

    They’re not saving lives. They’re not exposing evil. They’re pursuing a political agenda. It’s one I happen to agree with, but it is not a goal that I believe would justify these tactics. Lying to the Nazis at 3 am has nothing to do with what I am talking about, and for that matter, neither does the typical sting operation undertaken with very good reason to suspect that crimes really are taking place and to gather evidence of it (though these may be wrong too, they are not the issue at hand).

  • T. Shaw says:

    Dr. Nathanson (Rest in Peace) has seen the end of abortion.

    To paraphrase Plato, “Only the dead have seen the end of abortion.”

    People, go on. Keep beating up on each other.

    The forces of evil do not waste energy on divisiveness.

  • Christina says:

    Comparing what Live Action does to what NARAL did is like comparing a surgeon to a Sudanese warlord because both of them cut people. A surgeon cuts to heal; a Sudanese warlord cuts to terrorize and kill.

    What Live Action does is espionage and research — they’re using a ruse to uncover TRUTH. What NARAL did was lie because they knew that the truth was their enemy.

  • tom in Ohio says:

    Let it rest Joe. You’re not doing any one any good. You have no idea how Nathanson would have felt about Lila Rose. None. Yet you will use his death to keep beating your rigorist/legalist drum. Some might call that shameful.

    Tom in Ohio

  • Stephen E Dalton says:

    I’m amazed at the phariseeical nitpicking that Lila Rose is being subjected to by many Catholic commentators. One such commentor is always whining and moaning about “death penalty maximumists” who have this terrible idea that murders ought to be put to death for their crimes. Probably about two dozen murderers are executed each year, sometimes years after the crime has been committed. However, millions of innocent babies have been executed without due process since 1973 by abortionists. Lila Rose has exposed the true evil and venality of this hideous murder for hire business, and yet, some Catholic commentators moan and wail about her lying to the PP people. All cops in a sting operation lie to the suspected criminals. It’s kind of hard to get them to tell you the truth by saying I’m a cop and I want to know what’s going on here. Please, people, stop straining gnats and swallowing camels!

  • Martin M. says:

    Drawing a curtain to reveal a liar is not a lie. Joe’s predicament is not on par with the quandary of whether you would be willing to kill Hitler given the opportunity, rather it is one of whether you would show footage of the conditions in Auschwitz if the only way you could get in to the camp was to sneak through the fence at night. I don’t think that Joe is wrong to question the tactic. In fact I think it is absolutely necessary. Drawing the line between right and wrong in this issue is fundamental. That said I think getting to the truth in this case was an act of utter bravery.

  • Joe Hargrave says:


    Did you even read my post?

    No one ever engages the substantive points.

    “Lila Rose has exposed the true evil and venality of this hideous murder for hire business, and yet, some Catholic commentators moan and wail about her lying to the PP people.”

    What Lila Rose has really exposed is the bad-will of many in the Catholic blogosphere.

    There are no moral dilemmas in your world, I guess, not when you believe in the righteousness of your cause and the evil of the enemy. You can do anything to them and it is justified. Is that the sort of strawman nonsense you want made out of your position? Or do you really believe such nonsense?

  • Stephen E Dalton says:

    No Joe, I don’t believe I can do anything I want to them. I don’t believe I have the right to do them bodily harm, including killing them. However , if cops, investigative journalists, and private detectives can do stuff like this, I have no problem with Lila Rose doing a number on them. BTW, did yo click on that link Phil gave? Sort of confirms what Lila discovered.

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