Michael Gaynor
Father Gerald Murray: ex-abortionist Bernard Nathanson and ex-communist Whittaker Chambers chose to repent
By Michael Gaynor
March 8, 2011

Very fittingly, Father Murray compared Dr. Nathanson to Whittaker Chambers, the repentant ex-Communist who exposed Alger Hiss as having been a member of his Communist cell while serving in the Franklin Roosevelt Administration.

On February 28, 2011, Father Gerald Murray, the late Dr. Bernard Nathanson's parish priest, in the homily at the Dr. Nathanson's funeral Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan, declared: "I am not exaggerating when I say that Dr. Bernard Nathanson is a towering figure in the history of the United States because he was an unflinching witness on behalf of those millions who have been killed, or are threatened to be killed, by abortion. He was a witness who spoke out against what he himself had helped to bring about, namely the legalization of abortion in our country, along with his fellow founders of NARAL, the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws."

Dr. Nathanson was not too proud to "blow the whistle" on himself. After being a founding member of what is now called NARAL Pro-Choice America, directing the Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health, then the largest freestanding abortion facility in the world, and being responsible for more than 75,000 abortions. Dr. Nathanson had a life-changing experience: he examined a sonogram of a "fetus" being aborted, appreciated the horror, repented and became a prominent pro-life advocate determined to show others what kind of "medical procedure' abortion really is.

Dr. Nathanson, in his bookThe Hand of God (pp. 140-41), explained: "By 1984...I had begun to ask myself more questions about abortion: What actually goes on in an abortion? ... so in 1984 I said to a friend of mine, who was doing fifteen or maybe twenty abortions a day, 'Look, do me a favor, Jay. Next Saturday, when you are doing all these abortions, put an ultrasound device on the mother and tape it for me.' He did, and when he looked at the tapes with me in an editing studio, he was so affected that he never did another abortion. I, though I had not done an abortion in five years, was shaken to the very roots of my soul by what I saw."

Wikipedia describes what may be called Dr. Nathanson's "fundamental transformation" this way (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_Nathanson):

"With the development of ultrasound in the 1970s, [Dr. Nathanson] had the chance to observe a real-time abortion. This led him to reconsider his views on abortion. He is often quoted as saying abortion is "the most atrocious holocaust in the history of the United States". He wrote the book Aborting America where he first exposed what he called 'the dishonest beginnings of the abortion movement.' In 1984, he directed and narrated a film titled The Silent Scream, in cooperation with the National Right to Life Committee, regarding abortion. His second documentary Eclipse of Reason dealt with late-term abortions. He stated that the numbers he once cited for NARAL concerning the number of deaths linked to illegal abortions were 'false figures.'

"Referring to his previous work as an abortion provider and abortion rights activist, he wrote in his 1996 autobiography Hand of God, 'I am one of those who helped usher in this barbaric age.'

"Nathanson developed what he called the 'vector theory of life,' which states that from the moment of conception, there exists 'a self-directed force of life that, if not interrupted, will lead to the birth of a human baby.'"

Father Murray commented: "Anyone who has seen The Silent Scream is shaken. Seeing the truth about abortion overthrows the lies and deceptions of the abortion lobby. An important way that we can honor the memory of Dr. Bernard Nathanson is to continue his work of making the truth known to anyone who is willing to listen to our message, and then to discover what pregnancy really is by looking at ultrasound images of a pre-born human being."


Very fittingly, Father Murray compared Dr. Nathanson to Whittaker Chambers, the repentant ex-Communist who exposed Alger Hiss as having been a member of his Communist cell while serving in the Franklin Roosevelt Administration.

Doug Linder, in "The Trials of Alger Hiss: A Commentary" (2003) (http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/hiss/hissaccount.html), emphasized the risk of being fooled by "a tall, handsome Harvard-trained lawyer" and dismissing "a short, stocky, and rumpled Columbia drop-out and confessed former Communist from a poor and troubled Philadelphia family":

"...the trials of Alger Hiss for perjury....featured two men who could hardly be more different, sharing only impressive intelligence. Alger Hiss was a tall, handsome Harvard-trained lawyer with an impeccable pedigree. Whittaker Chambers was a short, stocky, and rumpled Columbia drop-out and confessed former Communist from a poor and troubled Philadelphia family. Time and time again the two men would tell congressional committees, trial juries, and a reading public flatly contradictory stories about Hiss's allegiances during the period from 1933 to 1938. Hiss, according to Chambers, was a dedicated Communist engaged in espionage, even while working at the highest levels of the United States government. Hiss told a very different story, claiming unflinching loyalty and denying even membership in the Communist Party. One man was lying, one was telling the truth."

Hiss had served as Secretary General of the United Nations Charter Conference (which began on April 25, 1945) and he was serving as president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace when Chambers appeared before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1948 and denounced Hiss as a man he had known as a member of a "Marxist discussion group" that he called "an underground organization of the United States Communist Party in the 1930s.

President Truman dismissed the Hiss case as "a red herring."

In fact, Chambers was telling frightening and embarrassing truth that Truman (and many others) were loathe to hear.

Father Murray said:

"Dr. Nathanson reminds me of another great witness against evil and in favor of the truth in the twentieth century, Whittaker Chambers....

"Chambers renounced his membership in the Communist party and spoke out against those who were part of a conspiracy to harm our nation through espionage for the Soviet Union. He confessed to being a Soviet spy. He was vilified. He suffered. He stood firm. He spoke the truth.

"The introduction to his book Witness is a "Foreword in the Form of a Letter to My Children." This quotation from the foreword captures Dr. Nathanson‟s courageous witness on behalf of innocent human beings menaced by abortion: "A man is not primarily a witness against something. That is only incidental to the fact that he is a witness for something. A witness, in the sense that I am using the word, is a man whose life and faith are so completely one that when the challenge comes to step out and testify for his faith, he does so, disregarding all risks, accepting all consequences." (p. 5)

In June 1987 the late Robert D. Novak explained in his preface to an edition of Witness that reading the book in 1953, as a 22-year old second lieutenant on active duty in the U.S. Army contemplating a combat assignment in Korea that never came, "changed [his] world view, [his] philosophical perceptions, and, without exaggeration, [his] life."

Novak elaborated on Chambers' diagnosis of the grave challenge facing America:

"On the first full page of Witness, [Chambers] talks of 'this sick society, which we call Western Civilization' locked in a struggle between 'the two irreconcilable faiths of our time — Communism and Freedom.' A relativist establishment that never forgave President Reagan for just one time branding the Soviet Union as 'the evil empire' cannot abide a Chambers who continually indicts Communism as 'evil, absolute evil.' For Westerners who imagine in each succeeding Soviet ruler a turn from Stalinism, Chambers is hard to take: 'The point was not that Stalin is evil, but that Communism is more evil, and, that acting through his person, it found its supremely logical manifestation.'

"It is this portrayal, of an absolute struggle to decide the fate of Western Civilization, that so transformed my attitude as a young Army officer and so offends the moral and cultural relativists of the world. But that scarcely is the limit of chambers' capacity to outrage the establishment.

"He views this struggle as inseparable from faith in God, asserting that 'man without mysticism is a monster.' He goes on to assail liberals as sharing with the Communists 'a similar vision' of man without God and indeed sharing complicity with them. Finally, there is his conviction that in leaving Communism, he has switched from the winning to the losing side.

"That is heavy going for conventional America. It was heavy going for me when I first read Witness. But in moving from youth to advanced middle-age, I have with each rereading come to accept more and more of it as harsh reality and yet, paradoxically, as a preeminent source of hope."

Novak concluded:

"Curiously, the message of hope in the end prevails. Chambers the ex-Communist is finally eclipsed by Chambers the Christian. His pessimism on political grounds is tempered by faith — in god and in his fellow Americans.

"It was providence that finally enabled Chambers at such personal cost, to 'win' the Hiss case. He sees the hand of God in the selection of the intrepid Thomas Murphy as Federal prosecutor of Hiss when the overriding attitude of the Truman Administration from the President on down was contempt and derision. Indeed, for someone with the strength and force of Chambers to sacrifice his life for his country can be called providential."

Brandeis University English Professor Emeritus Milton Hindus, in the introduction to the 1987 edition of Witness (p. xiii), explained why new generations of Americans should be interested in Chambers: "Communism, as a forceful political philosophy that aims not merely to interpret our world but to change it beyond recognition, is unfortunately only too much with us. Therefore, the story of one man's journey to the uttermost depths of the Communist movement retains a compelling interest and relevance. It is not merely a part of our history; it speaks of something that has a potential for harm to those not immunized against it by terrible experience."

Not long after the 1987 edition was issued, the Iron Curtain fell and the Soviet Union collapsed, but here in the United States a stealth socialism "that aims not merely to interpret our world but to change it beyond recognition, is unfortunately only too much with us."

That's why we need people who are not too proud to tell the truth when they discover it.

© Michael Gaynor


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Michael Gaynor

Michael J. Gaynor has been practicing law in New York since 1973. A former partner at Fulton, Duncombe & Rowe and Gaynor & Bass, he is a solo practitioner admitted to practice in New York state and federal courts and an Association of the Bar of the City of New York member... (more)


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