Dr. Nathanson, an obstetrician-gynecologist, was co-founder in 1969 of the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws and at one time director of the largest abortion clinic in the country; in a dramatic turnabout, he now says that abortion should only be allowed when the mother's life is in jeopardy. But there is little here that reflects the author's personal struggle, either apropos of his original or his current position. Nathanson's description of the development of the N.A.R.A.L. is politically enlightening--""For president we needed someone pledged to activism and politically astute. Of course it had to be woman, though [Lawrence Lader] figured to actually run N.A.R.A.L. as chairman of the Executive Committee. We determined that we should have two nominal vice-presidents as good ballast for outside"" (Betty Friedan and Lana Clarke Phelan were the designees). But he never examines the motivations of the people he worked with (Lader, Harold Moody, and others), any more than he explains his own--beyond briefly telling us that he tired of the injustice and hypocrisy of abortion laws, the disparity between the treatment of rich and poor, and the sight of victims of self-abortion and botched abortion. Lest we think money was the motive--""Contrary to the image of 'profiteering' on abortion, my practice and my income declined because of my political activities."" The big change for Nathanson seems to have come with a new ""daily realization of the intrauterine patient""--because of technological advances in perinatology, it became clear that the embryo/fetus (which Nathanson calls ""alpha"") shows individual life at six weeks gestation and earlier. From conception to birth, he writes, ""alpha"" is a unique being, separate from its mother. The author attacks all the usual arguments of both the pro-abortion and pro-choice groups; the only issue for Nathanson is should this human life be taken. To solve the abortion dilemma, as he sees it, we need four major techniques: a viable test for early pregnancy, a method for locating the pregnancy in the uterus (rather than in the fallopian tubes, for e.g.), a life-support system for alpha outside its original host womb, and a non-injurious method for removing alpha from the womb of the mother who does not want it. But he is little help to those who still want to know what is right. Nathanson started by sending patients to Puerto Rico for illegal abortions; he is left referring patients to his colleagues for legal abortions--and doing only a few for patients who refuse to go elsewhere. A personal story without deep commitment; an inflammatory issue up in the air; but it will be read--avidly.
Pub Date: Oct. 19, 1979
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1979
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