THE HAND OF GOD - A Journey from Death to Life by the Abortion Doctor Who Changed His Mind, by Bernard N Nathanson, MD; Regnery Publishing, Inc, Washington, DC, 206 pp, $25, ISBN: 0-89526-463-3.

Review by Del Meyer, MD

Dr. Bernard Nathanson, co-founder in 1969 of the National Abortion Rights Action League, helped make abortion legal. As director of New York City’s Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health, the world’s largest abortion clinic, and the nation’s most prominent abortionist, he presided over 60,000 abortions.

In this autobiographic memoir, Dr. Nathanson takes us through his upbringing in a Jewish household, his religious struggles throughout his education and medical training, the anti-Semitism he encountered, and how he felt threatened when a Jewish friend asked him to be a character witness at his hearing before Joseph McCarthy’s Senatorial Committee.

His involvement in the first of his seventy-five thousand (75,000) encounters with abortion was the pregnancy of his intended, Ruth. His father demanded marriage but sent him five hundred (500) Canadian dollars for an abortion in Catholic Montreal. The search for the abortionist, the hemorrhage, and the resolution are quite graphic.

During his training he then impregnated a woman who loved him, but he could not return that love. He insisted on an abortion as a condition to maintain that relationship and coolly informed her that since "I was the most skilled practitioner of the art, I myself would do the abortion. And I did."

After a clinical description of the procedure, including even the inspection of the bag of pregnancy tissue containing the remains of his own unborn child, he admits he had no feelings aside from the sense of accomplishment and pride of expertise. Asked if perhaps for a fleeting moment or so he experienced a flicker of regret, a microgram of remorse, Nathanson states, "No and no. And that, dear reader, is the mentality of the abortionist: another job well done, another demonstration of the moral neutrality of advanced technology in the hands of the amoral. . . What I felt in my starved, impoverished soul must have been closely akin to the swelling satisfaction of Adolf Eichmann, as he saw his tightly scheduled trains bearing Jews to the extermination camps leaving and arriving exactly on time, to keep the extermination machine moving with celebrated Teutonic efficiency. . . I have aborted the unborn children of my friends, colleagues, casual acquaintances, even teachers. There was never a shred of self-doubt, never a wavering of the supreme confidence that I was doing a major service to those who sought me out. . ."

He discusses the Hippocratic oath, how it absolutely forbids abortion (as well as physician assisted suicide), how the oath was sanitized for Christians, and then amoralized. He gives us some of the modern versions of the oath:

"Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given to me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life: this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God."

He gives us a history of the abortion movement. Attempts to control population growth by abortion can be traced to the mists of antiquity. As far back as the year 2737 BC, the Emperor Shen Yung is said to have devised a prescription for the production of abortion. Taussig, in his encyclopedic work Abortion, Spontaneous and Induced, states that the practice is nearly as old as the social life of man. Nathanson gives an historical account of the use of abortifacients up to the modern era where surgical methods are used for aborting the 1.5 million fetuses annually in the United States.

Japan legalized abortion in 1948. The East Coast abortion mill was Puerto Rico, where he visited Dr. Rodriguez in 1964. He was astounded that Rodgriguez had no receptionist or nurse. His examining table was so austere, he could give the patient sodium pentothal, rapidly place the patient in stirrups, dilate the cervix and scrape out the uterus in a flash, then scoot back to the head of the table to wake the patient up. On a tour of his consultation room, Nathanson could see that all the credentials could have been easily purchased.

In the mid-1960s the model American Law Institute statute on abortion was published. It was adopted in 1967 by Colorado, North Carolina and California. In 1968 Great Britain weighed in with a permissive abortion statute, and Nathanson started to refer patients there since there was no limit to the gestational age at which the British physician could terminate a pregnancy. Nathanson paid a visit and watched Dr. David Sopher dispose of 32 pregnancies (all within 18 weeks) between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. At noon a nurse fed him a glass of orange juice through a straw without his breaking gown or glove. At the same time he conducted a learned discussion on the virtues of the Rolls Royce vs. the Bentley and the Mercedes Benz.

Illegal abortion was the number one killer of pregnant women in 1967, when Nathanson met Larry Lader at a dinner party. When Lader casually mentioned that he had just published a book on abortion, Nathanson eagerly listened since this was his paramount interest at that time. Lader had analyzed the prevailing laws restricting abortion in the United States, torn apart all the arguments for retaining those laws, and demanded that all such laws be struck down as medically unsound and legally unconstitutional. This conversation lasted eight years during which time every abortion law in the United States was struck down, the lines between pro- and anti-abortionists were drawn, and the battle joined. The casualty list of that war at the time Nathanson wrote this book is so long that it would take six hundred (600) Vietnam Memorial walls to list all who have perished.

Nathanson states that Lader was obsessed with abortion. All their discussions were either directly or indirectly related to abortion. When Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated in the same year, these monumental events were discussed primarily as to whether they were good or bad for the abortion revolution he and Lader were scheming. Nathanson gives us all the particulars of this scheming: Betty Friedan and her corps of feminists, the Woodstock nation, church leaders, and the manipulation of the media including dubious surveys and polls. All the while Lader stood by watching as the pillars of certainty cracked and crumbled providing the historical moment to strike at the Roman Catholic Church, blaming them for every death due to a botched abortion. Although the actual deaths from criminal abortions in the United States was 300 or so, the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) in its press release claimed to have data of 5,000. Their ally, Dr. Christopher Tietze, a respected statistician, never denied this claim. With the help of Governor Nelson Rockefeller, a Republican mesmerized by liberal causes, New York legalized abortion on July 1, 1970.

Nathanson details the start of the abortion clinics in New York and the life of some eminent abortionists. He wonders why they couldn’t link the ethical and the moral, the shoddy practices and the shabby practitioners, the evident greed and the callous motives, between the crassness of the enterprise and those involved in it, all these ethical indicators and the grotesque immorality of the act itself.

When Dr. Nathanson took over the New York City’s Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health, in order to stave off public health investigation and closure, he raised the standards so that the doctors were required to check the bag that hung from the suction apparatus to see if the appropriate amount of fetal parts were present. Each doctor would examine the remains of perhaps a dozen abortions every workday. At the conclusion of their eight-hour shift, they would return home to their families, to their practices, to their houses of worship. (Many of the non-Jewish physicians were churchgoers; the Jewish physicians were for the most part either Reformed Jews or atheists, as Nathanson says he was.)

Nathanson said the physicians he inherited when he took over the directorship of the clinic were a professional press gang mercifully unburdened of ethical or moral baggage. He was reminded of the work of Robert Lifton, a psychiatrist, who examined the behavior of Nazi doctors who had presided over the mass slaughter in the camps and then returned to ordinary family life at the end of the working day. He termed this phenomenon "doubling," the division of the self into two functioning wholes.

Nathanson regrets the years he spent traveling all over the country lobbying legislatures and politicians to open up their laws (before Roe vs Wade). He became a pariah in the medical profession and was known as the abortion king. His papers on abortion were eagerly received by the liberal press (and even the liberal medical press) but made him unpopular with many in his profession. His practice dwindled because doctors would not send patients to him. Now that he is pro-life, he feels exiled again by the medical establishment.

He left the clinic in 1972 continuing his obstetric and gynecology practice as he had always done. At this time he had the space to think--the hand of God was present, he felt. A marvelous new technology was moving into the hospitals--it was the ultrasound. He began to observe the fetal heart, see the human fetus, measure it, observe it, watch it and indeed bond with it and love it. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) some ten years ago reported that when ten pregnant women came to an abortion clinic and were shown ultrasound pictures of the fetus before the abortion, only one went through with the abortion. Nine left the clinic pregnant. That is how powerful the bonding is. Nathanson found himself bonding with the unborn.

Nathanson wrote an article for the same Journal in 1974 stating that there was no longer any doubt in his mind that human life exists within the womb from the very onset of pregnancy. That life is interdependent for all of us. It is a continuous spectrum beginning in utero and ending in death--the bands of the spectrum are designated by words such as fetus, infant, child, adolescent and adult. We must courageously face the fact--finally--that human life is being taken in the process of abortion, an unmistakable interruption of a process which would otherwise have produced a citizen of the world. Denial of this reality is the crassest kind of moral evasiveness.

These fairly modest assertions, Nathanson states, brought the largest response to an article that the NEJM has ever gotten, even up until today. The NEJM didn’t bother with the letters but sent them all, huge sacks of mail, to Nathanson. These were not fan letters. These were from the same physicians who excoriated him for being an abortionist four years earlier but now, as the abortion pie had grown and they were pulling in the money right and left, they had changed their minds. He was overwhelmed by the vituperation, the phone calls, and the threats against his life and family.

Although Nathanson alludes to physician assisted suicide, the lessons he draws are now being played out. For instance, Dutch physicians, having felt the power, have euthanized patients, half of whom have not requested the procedure. They are resisting all attempts to reassess the entire issue. Early reports from Oregon suggest that patients, the full extent not yet clear, are being euthanized who have not requested to be put to death.

Ultimately, Dr. Nathanson, the abortion doctor who changed his mind, underscores in The Hand of God the tragic lack of concern we have for our fellow human beings - whether they be unborn or terminally ill. They are being exterminated in numbers even Hitler or Stalin would never have dreamed possible.

This is an extremely important book for every American, as well as every human, in the world to read.