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Pro-Life Hero and Prophetic Voice is Dead: Rest in Peace Dr. Bernard 'Bernie' Nathanson

By Deacon Keith Fournier
February 23rd, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Over the next few days, while preparations are made for his funeral, the Pro-Life world will be filled with well deserved accolades for Bernie. I know he would not feel worthy. Over the years I came to see that the man I first met kneeling in prayer carried with him an extraordinary burden for the lives lost as a result of the evil of abortion. The weight I sensed upon his shoulders was that of a penitent.

NEW YORK, NY (Catholic Online) - On Monday, February 21, 2011, Dr. Bernard "Bernie" Nathanson, a hero to the Pro-Life cause, passed into the hands of the Lord. He was also my friend. Several days ago I received an E mail from Fr "CJ" John McCLoskey who told me Bernie would soon be going to the Lord. I immediately stopped what I was doing and prayed for this man whose example inspired me and so many others. When I heard the news today, I wept.

I met Dr. Bernard "Bernie" Nathanson at a retreat many years ago, sponsored by Opus Dei. I will never forget the moment I first saw him. He was kneeling in the chapel, obviously deep in prayer. He seemed profoundly burdened. I had known of him for many years. However, that weekend and for years to come I would get to know him. He was a  modern day St. Paul. 

As that weekend progressed I spoke with Bernie and we attended some sessions together. I was struck with the humility of the man. His reputation had preceded him and I considered him a hero. As someone involved in the Pro-Life effort my entire adult life, his witness motivated much of my own Pro-Life effort.

I remembered Bernie when he considered himself a Jewish "Pro-Life Atheist". He was one of the best examples we had of why the Pro-Life position was not dependent upon any religious undergirding to defend its truth. However, like many drawn by the truth of the humanity of the child in the womb, Bernie's unquenchable hunger for truth led him to seek its fullness in the Catholic Church.

During the nineties I led the efforts of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) as Executive Director. Bernie was considering going to Law School. I was inspired that, at "his age", he would consider such a change in his life. The reason Bernie wanted to go to go to Law School was to help bring an end to legal abortion.

In the process of his discernment we spent some wonderful times together. He had a place in Norfolk, Virginia where he did some of his writing. I learned much from this man who refused to accept the absurd notion that age limits our obligation to do what is right. All these years later, as I write a PhD dissertation in Moral Theology at 57, I owe the inspiration to Bernie. 

Over the next few days, while preparations are made for his funeral, the Pro-Life world will be filled with well deserved accolades for Bernie. I know he would not feel worthy. Over the years I came to see that the man I first met kneeling in prayer carried with him an extraordinary burden for the lives lost as a result of the evil of abortion. The weight I sensed upon his shoulders was that of a penitent. He carried a deep sense of responsibility for his past.

As an obstetrician, Dr. Bernard N. Nathanson became the director of an abortion clinic where he presided over at least 60,000 abortions. He instructed others who performed 15,000 more abortions. He estimated having personally performed about 5,000 abortions. He acknowledged that he killed his own child whom he and a girlfriend had conceived in the 1960's. Co-founder of the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (now NARAL ProChoice America) Bernard Nathanson was a leader of the early abortion movement. 

It was sonogram technology which opened his eyes to the evil of every procured abortion. His 1985 film The Silent Scream is one of the most powerful testimonies to the truth of what occurs in every abortion. His documentary film Eclipse of Reason, explains the gruesome procedures used to execute the child in the first home of the whole human race.

In 1979 he co-authored Aborting America which ripped the veneer of civility off of the beginnings of the abortion movement. Bernie told me that he helped to come up with the use of the word "choice" to hide the truth. As I came to know him it became obvious that he felt deeply responsible for the horror that sophistry unleashed. He also acknowledged that he and his abortionist colleagues lied about the number of women who died from illegal abortions in order to garner support.

In his 1996 autobiography The Hand of God, the weight of all of this is clear. He wrote, "Abortion is now a monster so unimaginably gargantuan that even to think of stuffing it back into its cage is ludicrous beyond words. Yet that is our charge - a herculean endeavor." He openly acknowledged "I am one of those who helped usher in this barbaric age."

In 1996 Bernie was baptized into Christ by Cardinal John O'Connor in New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral and received confirmation and first Communion. He wrote of the day, "I was in a real whirlpool of emotion, and then there was this healing, cooling water on me, and soft voices, and an inexpressible sense of peace. I had found a safe place."

Father C.J. "John" McCloskey concelebrated the Liturgy that day. He was used - as he has been in the lives of many high profile converts - to help lead Bernie to the fullness of the Christian faith in the Catholic Church. Bernie had a deep affection and gratitude toward Father John.  He helped him find new life in the waters of rebirth.

In a recent interview with the National Catholic Register Fr. CJ said of Bernie, "He saw the whole culture of death coming, and knew that abortion was just the tip of the iceberg." He wrote an epilogue to the second edition of The Hand of God, and called the book "one of the more important autobiographies of the twentieth century."

Standing as a sponsor for Bernie at his Baptism was pro-Life heroine Joan Andrews Bell. She told the Register that before he died "He said he was praying for us, and I told him we love him and pray for him, too." In that same interview Joan confirmed what I had sensed all those years ago, "he had a deep pain for what he had done in terms of abortion. I remember there were periods he was fasting; he underwent huge amounts of fasting to make up for it."

Bernie is survived by his wife Christine and a grown son, Joseph. Funeral arrangements are pending. Rest in Peace, dear friend and thank you.

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