Reformed architect of legal abortion in America describes how it all happened
October 29, 2020 (Inside the Vatican) — At a prayer vigil in November 2009, I discerned the Lord asking me to interview Dr. Bernard Nathanson, the last surviving co-founder of NARAL — the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (later renamed NARAL Pro-Choice America). In the late 1960’s, Bernard Nathanson and Lawrence Lader crafted what they called the “Catholic Strategy,” later called “the most brilliant political strategy of all time.” It was a stealthy and effective scheme to destroy America’s historical protection of unborn life by undermining the spiritual authority of Divine Law and marginalizing the moral authority of the Catholic Church. As co-founders of NARAL, these two atheists deployed their Catholic Strategy with tactical precision and great efficacy. They were the pioneers of the sinister industry of abortion, which depended on political victory to deceive and destroy. And then a miracle of sorts happened, and Bernard Nathanson became immovably pro-life.
I was daunted by the prospect of interviewing Dr. Nathanson, and even doubted its possibility, but I felt I was supposed to try. Tracking down his phone number via a pro-life attorney, I dialed with trepidation. His wife answered and explained that her 83-year-old husband was very frail from terminal cancer and had not granted an interview in over a year. But she instructed me to fax my letter of request, and promised to present it to her husband.
A few days later she called to inform me that, much to her surprise, Dr. Nathanson had agreed to my request. On December 1, 2009, I flew to New York City to interview the man who trained Planned Parenthood how to kill children in the womb and who worked as Medical Director for the largest abortion center in the world, the Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health (CRASH). These credentials earned him the title “The Abortion King.” Yet, he was the same man who spent his final 35 years working tirelessly to undo what he had regrettably unleashed upon America: deceiving the courts, maligning clergy, manipulating the media, training doctors and crushing the souls of millions of mothers and fathers by stopping the beating hearts of their unborn children.
In 1973, just a few months after celebrating the Roe v Wade decision, Dr. Nathanson witnessed for the first time a new technology: real-time ultrasound. He observed an unborn child in the womb — smiling, stretching, and wiggling her toes. He told me, “Real-time ultrasound was the bomb. It made everything come alive.” Science revealed the beauty, goodness and truth of life in this sacred space, demanding intellectual honesty from Dr. Nathanson; he had to acknowledge that abortion kills an existing human life, and admit that what he had been doing was morally wrong. In that moment, he realized he had two patients: the mother and her child. His job was to protect and save them both. In that moment, Dr. Nathanson’s pro-life journey began.
He spent two years persuading NARAL that real-time ultrasound exposed a major ethical and moral dilemma, but the organization cared little and would not alter its position.
Dr. Nathanson resigned from NARAL on the second anniversary of Roe v Wade. In his resignation letter, addressed to Lawrence Lader, he wrote: “The judgments of the Supreme Court were never meant to be infallible or eternal. And what if we’ve been wrong — if the Court should soon reverse itself on the abortion issue in the light of changing times and/or new scientific evidence? What an incalculable injustice will have been perpetrated. What an immeasurable, irretrievable loss will have been suffered. The annual dues to NARAL are ten dollars a year and the hubris of certainty. I can no longer afford those dues.”
By 1979, the father of America’s abortion industry had become 100% pro-life — without exceptions. The industry, in his words, grew “fecklessly out of control.” And fueling it was NARAL’s Catholic Strategy.
Following his defection from the abortion industry, Dr. Nathanson suffered nearly a decade of depression, frequently contemplating suicide, until he crossed paths with a priest who introduced him to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. On December 8, 1996, America’s “Abortion King” was baptized at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, and was made new in Christ as a Child of Light.
Background: My Promise
As I sat beside Dr. Bernard Nathanson in the interview he had granted me, listening to his great remorse for orchestrating and leading the war on America’s unborn children, I felt a deep sense of empathy. He was too ill to get his message out anymore, which compelled me to make him an offer: if he had a message for America, I would deliver it across the country until it became common knowledge — or until Roe v Wade was overturned.
In a thin, raspy voice weakened by his illness, but coupled with a slight twinkle of hope in his eyes, he responded, “Yes, yes…Continue teaching about the strategy I used to deceive America, but also deliver this special message. Tell America that the co-founder of NARAL says to ‘Love one another. Abortion is not love. Stop the killing. The world needs more love. I’m all about love now.’” I reached over and shook his feeble hand, promising that one day America would hear his story — and his important message.
The non-profit pro-life organization I founded, named Hosea Initiative, is committed to revealing this vital piece of American history to the public. Our informal polling shows that more than 90% of our predominantly pro-life, Catholic audience lacks awareness of Bernard N. Nathanson’s “Saul-to-Paul” conversion or NARAL’s Catholic Strategy. This is essential information for Catholics walking into the voting booth this November 3.
The “Opposition Element”
NARAL successfully united a fractured pro-abortion movement and aggressively lobbied for the overturn of a 140-year-old New York law which protected infants from abortion. When Governor Nelson Rockefeller signed liberal pro-abortion legislation into law in April 1970, New York City became the nation’s abortion epicenter. Only nine months later, NARAL’s Executive Committee assembled for an emergency meeting to discuss a grave risk to their blossoming abortion crusade. An increasing number of infants were born alive following second-trimester saline abortions.
Executive Director Lawrence Lader showed no empathy for these salt-burned infants. He expressed just the opposite. Dr. Nathanson described Lader’s response in his post-conversion book, The Abortion Papers: Inside the Abortion Mentality (1983): “[He] saw these abortion survivors as an embarrassment to NARAL and was concerned that the press had made much of them and that the opposition elements were seizing upon them as a tactic in the abortion wars.”(p. 177)
Who Was the Most Feared “Opposition Element”? The Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church was NARAL’s primary opposition due to its long-standing, uncompromising doctrine regarding the sanctity of human life. While the Anglican Church reversed its position on contraception at the 1930 Lambeth Conference and other Protestant denominations followed, Rome held its position against contraception and abortion as destructive moral evils against God’s gift of life.
For a deeper understanding of the genesis of NARAL’s response to Catholic opposition, look to Lawrence Lader’s 1966 book Abortion, where he identifies the Catholic hierarchy as “a force inimical” to what he called “legalized abortion — the final freedom.”
Nathanson says Lader shows his true colors and the level of his vitriol against the Catholic Church in the sequel, Abortion II: Making the Revolution. In it, Lader names individuals with their religious affiliation (most Catholic) only if they did not support his agenda. (Interestingly, the current “cancel culture” phenomenon mirrors tactics from NARAL’s playbook.)
Naral’s Religious War
Together, Lader and Nathanson executed an all-out, anti-Catholic religious war: Anti-Catholic warp was a central strategy, a keystone of the abortion movement. It was, in a sense, the self-fulfilling prophecy: knowing that the Catholic Church would vigorously oppose abortion, we laced the campaign with generous dollops of anti-Catholicism, and once the monster was lured out of the cave in response to the abortion challenge and the nakedly biased line, we could make the Catholic Church the point man of the opposition. The more vigorously the church opposed, the stronger the appeal of the anti-Catholic line became to the liberal media, to the northeastern political establishment, to the leftist elements of the Protestant Church, and to the Catholic intellectuals themselves. (The Abortion Papers, p.196)
Lader also modeled his anti-Catholic bigotry after the queen of racism and eugenics, Margaret Sanger, the founder of the Birth Control Federation of America (later renamed Planned Parenthood).
She started her dirty deeds in 1916 as a fallen-away Catholic whose socialist father taught her to despise the Church. In the early 1920s, she strategically pitted Protestants against Catholics over the issue of contraception.
By 1939, she launched the “Negro Project,” an aggressive plan to reduce the black race by pushing birth control and sterilization onto minority communities under the guise of women’s healthcare. In the late 1950s, she led the charge for a little white pill which fueled an era of unfettered promiscuity and out-of-wedlock births. Then, she passed the baton of abhorrence of the Catholic Church to Lader, her biographer and admirer, who soon thereafter partnered with Nathanson to form NARAL.
Dr. Nathanson explained that NARAL braced itself for a response, especially from the Catholic hierarchy. But none came. And it only fueled NARAL’s confidence and purpose. “What continually surprised us in the planning sessions and strategy meetings at NARAL was not only the comparatively mild quality of the organized Catholic opposition, but also the virtual absence of response to what was blatantly an anti-Catholic campaign.” (Ibid., p.190)
Later, writing with a heavy heart, Nathanson described the tactics as morally detestable, with no modern parallel. He was convinced that “there has been, then, no social change in American history as sweeping, as potent in American family life, or as heavily dependent upon an anti-religious bias for its success as the abortion movement.” (Ibid., p. 197)
The efficacy of NARAL’s Catholic Strategy helps explain why the vast majority of current U.S. Senators who identify as Roman Catholics consider themselves “pro-choice” and voted against the “Twenty-week Fetal Pain Bill,” which would have banned abortions from 20 weeks gestation onward, as well as the “Abortion Survivor Infant Protection Act,” which would have guaranteed, by law, healthcare to babies who survive attempted abortion.
The Catholic Strategy
Like wartime strategists, NARAL’s Executive Committee stealthily devised four primary points of attack against their leading opposition, the Catholic Church.
First: Blame and Accuse the Hierarchy
Cardinals, bishops and clergymen were targeted relentlessly by the NARAL team. Every time a woman was maimed or died from complications of illegal abortion, NARAL never accused the physician of malpractice, but blamed the hierarchy and Church opposition to legal abortion. Every press conference, editorial, or published article linked the name of a clergyman with social ills or women’s woes.
The blame game included an endless indictment of Church leaders for starting a religious war, abusing tax-exempt status and even attempting to overturn the Bill of Rights!
Nathanson explained: “The anti-Catholic tactic was… central to the maintenance of unity within the High Command of the movement. In providing a palpable, visible opposition it allowed those of us setting policy and devising a strategy to occupy ourselves with the enemy. We were kept too busy to contemplate in any critical way the quintessential brutality of permissive abortion. There was always another bishop to denounce, another pastoral letter to be rebutted, another cardinal to excoriate.” (Ibid., p. 197)
Second: Support and Campaign for Catholic Pro-abortion Candidates
NARAL recognized and praised Catholic politicians who publicly expressed a softened stance on abortion. It assisted legislators with election campaigns, grassroots efforts, and financial support, regardless of party affiliation. As long as the candidate embraced legalized abortion, s/he was a candidate for NARAL’s backing. Using the complicit media, NARAL made it appear times were changing, and “pro-choice” politicians were the new majority. NARAL understood the power of perception.
Third: Split and Set Catholics Against Each Other
NARAL recognized that John and Jacqueline Kennedy were models of the modern, enlightened twentieth-century Catholic, thinking for themselves “without obeisance to church dogma.” NARAL’s strategists recognized two categories of Catholic faithful: the well-educated, fashionable “Kennedy Catholics,” and blue-collar, conservative Catholics, only one generation removed from immigration. NARAL fueled divisiveness within the Catholic Church, pitting liberal against conservative Catholics. As Dr. Nathanson recounted it, everything was in place “for the portrayal of the Catholic Church as a political force, for the use of anti-Catholicism as a political instrument, and for the manipulation of Catholics themselves by splitting them and setting them against each other.” (Ibid., p. 181)
Let it be said: The Church helped us in NARAL. The papal encyclical of 1968 [Humane Vitae] denying both abortion and contraception to Catholics was a bonanza for us at NARAL at precisely the correct moment in history. By linking abortion and contraception in the encyclical, the Vatican made it impossible for those Catholics who were using birth control to split off the abortion issue, therefore leaving them to pick their own way through the confusing ethical and theological landscape.” (Ibid., p. 189)
The leap from practicing contraception to supporting legalized abortion proved an easy one.
Fourth: Execute the Straddle
Perhaps the most common and effective tool in the NARAL strategy toolbox was ‘the Straddle’: a separation of religious conviction from legislative judgment. Nathanson wrote that it was first proposed to the Board by “such notables as Robert Drinan, SJ, and Richard Cardinal Cushing.” (Ibid., p. 177)
“To maintain their appearance as enlightened and progressive while still retaining their bona fides as Catholics, we provided [Kennedy Catholics] with the now classic ‘straddle’ for Catholics in public positions: abortion is personally abhorrent, but everyone must be free to make their own choice. Now we were ready to use them to call over the more traditional, less trendy Catholics to our cause.” (Ibid., p.181)
Of course, substitute “slavery” for “abortion” and few would agree that one person can find slavery personally abhorrent while others are free to choose whether or not to own slaves. Yet, it’s a refrain we’ve heard for decades in politics. Dr. Nathanson prophetically warned that, as long as abortion is legal, there would be increased violence, increased public turmoil and the disintegration of the American family. These bitter fruits are everywhere apparent.
I believe the abortion ethic is fatally and forever flawed by the immorality of the means of its victory. A political victory achieved by such odious tactics is at best an unstable tyranny spawned by an unscrupulous and unprincipled minority. At the very least this disclosure of those odious tactics should compel those who are uneasy with permissive abortion to re-examine the issue. I believe that an America which permits a junta of moral thugs to foist an evil of incalculable dimensions upon it, and continues to permit that evil to flower, creates for itself a deadly legacy: a millennium of shame. (Ibid., p. 209)
This powerful quote of Dr. Nathanson’s is one of my favorites. It reveals how intimately he understood the diabolic industry. Abortion does not simply “happen” as civilizations evolve; it is created with evil intent. Dr. Nathanson wanted every bishop, priest and Catholic layperson to know how they were deliberately exploited, and be motivated to act in defense of their Faith and the sanctity of every human life. It’s time to challenge the anti-Catholic bias which marginalizes the prophetic voice of the Church. Pivotal in this effort is the courage to elect pro-life leaders with the power to reverse the ebbing tide of pro-life legislation. It’s time to abort our “millennium of shame.”
Published with permission from Inside the Vatican.