Paul Greenberg

The good doctor could have stepped out of a Louis Auchincloss short story. A fashionable but conscientious professional on the Upper West Side, his ideas, like his Brooks Brothers suits, were tailored to fit in. His ideals were those of the enlightened, modern urban America of his time, which was the mid- to late 20th century. And he was always doing what he could to further them.

The doctor's political, medical and social convictions were much what one would have expected of a New York liberal, as clear as his curriculum vitae. The son of a secular Jewish ob/gyn, he would follow his prominent father's footsteps, graduate from McGill Medical College in Montreal, and start his practice in Manhattan. He was a quick study, whether absorbing the latest medical knowledge or political trend. Especially when it came to abortion.

Having no convictions about the sacredness of human life, he was defenseless against its growing and increasingly legal appeal. Indeed, he was soon a leader in Pro-Choice ranks.

By his own count, Bernard Nathanson, M.D., was responsible for some 75,000 abortions -- without a twinge of conscience intervening. Not back then. Not when he picketed a New York City hospital in his campaign for the legalization of abortion in New York state. Preaching what he practiced, Dr. Nathanson became a tireless spokesman for NARAL, the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws.

As director of the Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health in Manhattan, where he routinely performed abortions and taught others to do the same, Dr. Nathanson knew of what he spoke. And never grew tired of rationalizing it. He wasn't destroying human life but just "an undifferentiated mass of cells." He was performing a social service, really. He was on a humanitarian mission.

Then something happened. The something was quite specific -- the newest EKG and ultrasound imagery. Always a follower of the latest scientific evidence, he couldn't deny what he was seeing. Political theory is one thing, but facts are facts.

By 1974, soon after Roe v. Wade had opened the way to his dream of abortion-on-demand, his eyes were opened. Literally. As he put it, "There is no longer any serious doubt in my mind that human life exists within the womb from the very onset of pregnancy." He changed his beliefs and his ways -- and sides.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.