One of our daughters loves country music. To borrow a phrase, it’s come a long way, baby. Today’s country music combines the down-home lyrics of traditional country with a rock sound that gets toes tapping in a hurry. Some of our most popular entertainers—Faith Hill, Keith Urban and Martina McBride, to name a few—are country rockers.
Include Rascal Flatts in that select group. The trio has been going strong for years. The Flatts’ version of Life is a Highway reached high places on both the country and pop charts. It’s even the theme song for the Pixar movie Cars. Few people would fail to recognize it.
There’s real truth to that song. Life is a highway, a journey to eternity on a road that hopefully leads us back home. It’s a lead-pipe cinch that the road won’t be straight. It will take us up and down, in and out, over bumps, around detours, and past forks leading nowhere. The road may be long. But ultimately it will end.
Last year marked the end of Bernard Nathanson’s 84-year journey back home. Nathanson co-founded the abortion-rights movement. He eventually became one its fiercest opponents. Nathanson chronicled his journey in two books, Aborting America and Hand of God.
Born in 1926, for most of his life Nathanson was a self-described Jewish atheist. Like his father, Nathanson chose to become a doctor specializing in obstetrics and gynecology. While in med school, he met a girl for whom he had deep feelings. When she became pregnant, they chose abortion. It was the beginning of their end. Abortion became a regular part of Nathanson’s medical practice. Without a shred of feeling, he even aborted his own child.
A few years later, Nathanson struck a friendship with a man hell-bent on the repeal of all abortion laws. The cause appealed to Nathanson, who as a resident physician had seen the effects of illegal abortions performed on poor women. In 1968, Nathan and his cohorts formed the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws—NARAL (now known as the National Abortion Rights Action League). By 1970, they had succeeded in greatly liberalizing New York’s abortion law. NARAL’s influence grew, and by 1973 abortion proponents had convinced the Supreme Court to overturn all abortion bans.
Nathanson knew in 1968 that Americans did not favor legalized abortion. Nathanson explained his group’s three-prong strategy to change minds. The first was to lie to the media about abortion. The group concocted a fictional poll result that 60 percent of Americans favored legal abortion. It juiced the annual illegal abortions figures from 100,000 to 1,000,000. It falsified the annual death toll from illegal abortion, raising it from 200-250 to 10,000. The media swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.
The second tactic was to endlessly vilify Catholic Church hierarchy as “socially backward.” In an era when all authority was questioned, the Church became an easy target. The group suppressed the fact that other religions and atheists also opposed abortion.
Third, it buried the scientific evidence that life begins at conception and insisted that it was impossible to define when life begins. In the changing moral atmosphere of the 1960 and '70s, the strategy worked like a charm.
In 1970, Nathanson took the reins of the Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health (CRASH), a 24/7 abortion operation. But as the movement steamrolled toward the victory of Roe v. Wade, Nathanson began to doubt. When Nathanson saw ultrasounds of unborn babies, he lost his faith in abortion. Quite simply, he could no longer escape their humanity.
In 1974, he wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine: “I am deeply troubled by my own increasing certainty that I had in fact presided over 60,000 deaths.” He later upped that figure to 75,000. In 1975, he resigned from NARAL. By 1979, he stopped doing abortions altogether.
In 1984, Nathanson asked a colleague to run an ultrasound of an actual abortion. What they saw shocked them both to the core. Nathanson’s colleague had been performing 15 to 20 abortions per weekend. He immediately quit. Nathanson turned the video into a documentary, The Silent Scream. In 1987, he produced Eclipse of Reason, a video documentary on late term abortions.
Nathanson’s move away from abortion was based on science, not religion. But the whole experience created an overwhelming guilt in him. He understood that he had unleashed an “abortion monster.” He couldn’t sleep at nights, unable to shake an “unremitting black despair.” He entertained thoughts of suicide.
Fortunately, his turning point came in 1989 at a sit-in at an NYC abortion clinic. He witnessed the joy in the hearts of peaceful protesters even as they were being arrested. For the first time, he entertained serious thoughts of God. Nathanson said that he came to know his every sin but simultaneously came to know the hope of God’s forgiveness. He felt the hand of God in his life. He eventually realized that he was not alone at all; God had been with him the entire time. Nathanson died a practicing Catholic and pro-life champion. For Nathanson the road was long. But it led him home.
Nathanson’s story is one for all of us, and for our culture and country. Over 40 years ago, Nathanson and his cohorts crossed a bridge that would have been better burned. They sent us down a road that puts self-satisfaction ahead of even human life. The road leads nowhere, or worse. But there is hope. Long ago God sent His only Son to walk a road that lead to the top of a hill. Christ died to save us from our sins. As was true for Nathanson, our hope rests in Him.
God permits U-turns. We have traveled far from the right path, and it is a long way back. But Easter is a good time to remember that that He will be with us. All the way home.