March 1, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Over the last three decades the conversion story of Dr. Bernard Nathanson, the former leading abortionist turned pro-life activist, touched countless souls.  Included among them is the woman who most recently had the courage to follow in his footsteps - former Planned Parenthood director Abby Johnson.

Recently Johnson opened up about Nathanson’s influence, especially in the difficult days and weeks immediately following her decision to leave Planned Parenthood.

Nathanson, a founding member of NARAL Pro-Choice America, passed away last week after a lengthy battle with cancer. Yesterday morning he was put to rest after a magnificent funeral ceremony led by Archbishop Timothy Dolan in St. Patrick’s Basilica in New York City.

Johnson’s conversion story is, in some ways, very similar to that of Nathanson. She was the former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas for eight years; but, like Nathanson, she underwent a radical pro-life conversion after coming face to face with the humanity of the unborn child during an ultrasound-guided abortion in September 2009.

“Before leaving Planned Parenthood, I knew little of [Dr. Nathanson], only that he had been one of the founding members of NARAL, had a conversion and produced ‘Silent Scream,’” Johnson told LifeSiteNews.com recently.

Johnson said that her husband, Doug, had seen “The Silent Scream” at his Christian high school, and that “one day while working at Planned Parenthood, Doug asked me if I had ever seen the film.”

She told him “of course I had not,”  and said she was not interested in watching “that ridiculous propaganda.” 

But, she said, Dr. Nathanson entered her life in a powerful way as soon as she decided to leave Planned Parenthood. The week after she left, she said, two things happened. The first was that she watched the “Silent Scream” for the first time, and the second was that she read her first pro-life book, “The Hand of God” by Dr. Nathanson. 

“I don’t think that was coincidence,” she told LifeSiteNews.com. “At the time, I didn’t even know what was coming…the lawsuit, the media, the critics. But I knew there were others like me…people like Dr. Nathanson. 

“He had overcome his past and lived to glorify God,” she continued. “He gave me hope that I could do the same. He became a man of honor, of honesty, of strong values. I had lacked those qualities for so long – I was fearful I would never be able to regain them. Dr. Nathanson helped me regain that hope.”

The sheer magnitude of Dr. Nathanson’s own conversion, after having been responsible for taking the lives of an estimated 75,000 unborn children, was difficult even for the doctor himself to grasp.

When longtime pro-life leader Joe Schiedler of the Pro-Life Action League told Nathanson that he was suspicious of the apparent ease of his about-face, Nathanson told Schiedler that the reality was much different.

“If I would admit outright the horror of what I was doing, I could not live with it,” said Nathanson, according to Scheidler. “Someday I will face my judge with all those lives on my conscience. It’s almost too difficult to admit what I have done, so I have to approach my conversion in a way that will help me keep my sanity.”

Johnson said that Nathanson was “many things to many people.” But for those who have worked in the abortion industry, “who have lived the deception,” he was something different – a “game changer.”

“He paved the way for conversion stories in this movement,” said Johnson, “he made it ‘acceptable’ to go from pro-choice to pro-life…he made us ‘acceptable.’ 

“We owe much to him,” she concluded. “Thank you, Dr. Nathanson.”