Brief 2008 video presentation by Dr. Nathanson on support of South Dakota Initiative 11.

February 21, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Bernard Nathanson, the former abortionist turned top pro-life activist who is perhaps best known for his role in creating the pro-life video The Silent Scream, died at the age of 84 this morning after a lengthy battle with cancer, reports the National Catholic Register.

At one time Nathanson was deeply entrenched in the American pro-abortion movement, having co-founded the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) and overseen 75,000 abortions as director of an abortion clinic.

Nathanson’s high-profile conversion to the pro-life movement was sparked by the advent of the ultrasound machine in the early 1970s.  He has related how he was moved to acknowledge the humanity of the unborn child after he watched an unborn baby recoil from a vacuum abortion device before being sucked from its mother’s womb.

Nathanson titled the video of this incident The Silent Scream and began using it to spread the pro-life message.

“Today our movement mourns the passing of one of its greatest voices for life,” said Lila Rose of Live Action Films in a statement today. “Dr. Nathanson is a testament to God’s grace; that any heart can be transformed into a beacon of love and truth. In his memory, and as the battle in Congress rages these next two weeks, let us work tirelessly to aid Dr. Nathanson’s brave efforts in exposing evil and protecting the innocent.  Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.”

In an interview with the Washington Times in 2009 Nathanson explained: “My switch to pro-life had nothing to do with religion.” Instead he changed his mind purely “based on the scientific evidence ... based on fetoscopies and ultrasound studies.” However, he subsequently converted to the Catholic faith.

The Register reports that Nathanson’s godmother for baptism, pro-life activist Joan Andrews Bell, spoke to the former abortionist earlier this month when he was already too weak to speak at length.

“He said he was praying for us, and I told him we love him and pray for him, too,” she said.

“He will be remembered as a very strong advocate for the babies,” she continued. “One factor stood out, knowing him over the years, and that was that 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.”

“He was like St. Paul, who was a great persecutor of the Church, yet when he saw the light of Christ, he was perhaps the greatest apostle for the Gospel. Dr. Nathanson was like that after his conversion. He went all around the world talking about the babies and the evils of abortion. Being his godmother was such an amazing thing, to see him come to Christ.”

Jim Hughes, vice-president of International Right to Life and president of Campaign Life Coalition in Canada told LifeSiteNews, “I’ve known Bernie Nathanson for almost 30 years. He was a true inspiration for all of us.”

Hughes says his group had Nathanson come to Canada a number of times over the years and one occasion was especially memorable. He recalled when “Nathanson and Canadian abortionist, Henry Morgentaler were on the Charrington Show out of Hamilton, Ontario, and it was rather comical when Morgentaler put forward his ideas defending his practice of abortion. Nathanson laughed and said, ‘I invented all those phrases, I invented those statistics, etc.” “It was quite the experience,” says Hughes.

Hughes noted that Dr. Nathanson “was also the catalyst that caused us to start Canada’s national pro-life newspaper, the Interim, 28 years ago.” He explained, “we brought him to Toronto in January or February, 1983 and arranged a press conference. The media all turned out to hear him, but very few reported what he had to say. So we decided we had to start our own media and launched the Interim newspaper in March.” The Interim is still published every month.

Following his conversion Nathanson exposed the fact that he and NARAL often lied about key facts and figures in the effort to push the legalization and acceptance of abortion, saying that they were “guilty of massive deception.”

In a radio program in 2008 he explained, “We claimed that between five and ten thousand women a year died of botched abortions. The actual figure was closer to 200 to 300.”

“We also claimed that there were a million illegal abortions a year in the United States,” he continued, “and the actual figure was close to 200,000. So, we were guilty of massive deception.”

In the same 2008 program Nathanson lamented that increasingly abortion was being used as a form of birth control: “One of the myths that was fed to the public through the media was that legalizing abortion would only mean that abortions taking place illegally, would be done legally. But in fact, abortion is now being used primary as a method of birth control all over the world and in the USA too.”

Nathanson is the author of a number of books, including Aborting America, and his autobiography, The Hand of God.

In the Hand of God he related how he aborted one of his own children; he said: “I am one of those who helped usher in this barbaric age.”

However, Nathanson has been widely acknowledged as being one of the most influential and powerful forces in the pro-life movement in the last several decades.

See related story:

Pro-life leaders mourn passing of pro-life great Dr. Bernard Nathanson