Pro-Life Activist Who Once Oversaw 75,000 Abortions Dead at 84

By Penny Starr | February 21, 2011 | 7:29 PM EST

Unborn baby

( – Dr. Bernard Nathanson, an obstetrician who oversaw some 75,000 abortions in his clinic before becoming a pro-life advocate, died at the age of 84 Monday following a prolonged battle with cancer.

Nathanson was the last surviving founding member of the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, now NARAL Pro-choice America, an organization that he said “misled” the American people and the courts about the truth that abortion ends a human life.

In his 1996 autobiography “The Hand of God,” Nathanson said the technology that emerged in the 1970s convinced him of the humanity of the unborn baby. Nathnson said he helped “usher in” the “barbaric age” of legal abortion.

Dr. Nathanson performed his last abortion in 1979, according to an article about his death in the National Catholic Register, and went on to have a major impact on the abortion debate, including producing the film “Silent Scream,” which shows a sonogram image of an unborn baby trying to escape the abortionist’s tools.

Nathanson, whose transformation from abortionist to pro-life activist included his conversion to the Catholic faith, said in a video about legislation in North Dakota to restrict the use of abortion as birth control that the abortions he was responsible for were “the biggest mistake” of his life and that the U.S. Supreme Court decision making the procedure legal in 1973 was “the greatest mistake this nation has ever conceived.”

The Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, said in a Feb. 21 statement that the life of Nathanson “is one of the most remarkable stories of God’s mercy and power.”

“I will never forget the workshop at which I introduced him at the 1994 Human Life International Conference in Irvine, Calif.,” Pavone said in the statement. “He was supposed to talk about chemical abortion, but at the last minute decided instead to speak of his spiritual journey.

“At the end of the talk, he said that he was standing on the brink of conversion to the Catholic Church,” Pavone said. “The room exploded. People were leaping into the air.”

“He said that he hoped God could forgive him, and I said, ‘Dr. Nathanson, he already has,’ Pavone said. “And I reminded him of that exchange just last week.”