Because of this, his early turn against abortion, he said, was entirely about the science of unborn life, rather than religious persuasion. He did not accept the religious beliefs of the widely Christian pro-life movement until a good decade after he had left his pro-choice views.
It was only after watching a group of pro-life demonstrators pray and sing outside a Planned Parenthood one morning in the early 1990s that he began to seriously consider the case for Christianity.
He wrote in his autobiography, “The Hand of God,” that he saw a total lack of selfishness on the faces of the demonstrators.
“They prayed for each other, but never for themselves,” he wrote. “And I wondered: How can these people give of themselves for a constituency that is (and always will be) mute, invisible and unable to thank them?”
He wrote that it was then that he began to seriously question what “indescribable Force” inspired the demonstrators to persist in these actions.
“What led me to this time and place?” he wrote. “Why, too, was I there? … Was it the same Force that allowed them to sit serene and unafraid at the epicenter of legal, physical, ethical and moral chaos?”
From that point on, Dr. Nathanson courted the idea of Christianity and Catholicism, approaching the Rev. C. John McCloskey in 1994, a priest who later provided him with religious instruction.
After his 1996 baptism at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, Dr. Nathanson fully embraced his new religion. “He practiced the faith, he frequented the sacraments, and spoke about his Catholicism unabashedly,” Father McCloskey told the National Catholic Register.
Father Murray described Dr. Nathanson as a “devout Catholic who loved the church and loved Christ.” He said that Dr. Nathanson was a strong man because he had fought cancer, but also a peaceful man because of his faith. Dr. Nathanson is survived by his wife, Christine, and son Joseph.
After his death, many others in the pro-life movement felt they had lost a friend. Pro-life representatives from Dr. Nathanson’s home state of New York felt especially affected.
“Dr. Nathanson was a good friend to New York State Right to Life,” said Barbara Meara, New York State Right to Life chairwoman, “and often spoke at our conventions, as well as at many other pro-life events all over the world.”
Ms. Meara referenced “The Silent Scream,” and said that Dr. Nathanson became a leading defender of unborn children with the production of that film, as well as with other resources he compiled.
Joe Scheidler of Pro-Life Action League said that he originally had not trusted Dr. Nathanson’s switch from abortionist to hard-core pro-lifer, but that a meeting with him caused him to change his mind.
In his blog post remembering the doctor, Mr. Scheidler wrote about sharing his skepticism with Dr. Nathanson.
“And then [Dr. Nathanson] said, ‘Joe, do you realize what I have to face some day 75,000 lives on my conscience?’” Mr. Scheidler recalled him saying. “‘Someday, I will face my judge with all those lives on my conscience.’”