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Nat Hentoff: Breaking with the Herd of Independent minds on abortion and infanticide

by | Jan 9, 2017

By Dave Andrusko

Editor’s note. Pro-life columnist and author Nat Hentoff passed away on Saturday. We are carrying two tributes: this, from 2012, and a personal farewell to a great champion of unborn children and little ones born with major anomalies.

Nat Hentoff

Pro-life veterans, like yours truly, need to remind ourselves constantly that our Movement replenishes itself daily. So what is obvious to us can be a complete mystery to someone who has not toiled in the pro-life vineyards for ages.

Last week we ran a piece by our friend, bioethicist Wesley J. Smith, who wrote about how journalist and author Nat Hentoff had been “blackballed” for his pro-life positions. Wesley quoted from a fine piece by Mark Judge who had concluded

“The reaction from America’s corrupt fourth estate [the media] was instant. Hentoff, a Guggenheim fellow and author of dozens of books, was a pariah. Several of his colleagues at the Village Voice, which had run his column since the 1950s, stopped talking to him. When the National Press Foundation wanted to give him a lifetime achievement award, there was a bitter debate amongst members whether Hentoff should even be honored (he was). Then they stopped running his columns. You heard his name less and less. In December 2008, the Village Voice [newspaper] officially let him go.”

Exactly where had Hentoff broke ranks with the herd of independent minds that required being banished? Let me list just a few, for Nat’s contributions were immense, but first few words of background.

Nat once described who he is in one sentence —“a secularist (non-religious) pro-lifer”–and how he became pro-life–“but I am also a fact-based reporter.” He wrote

“I had long accepted the pro-choice position of most people I knew until, working on a story about a heated abortion controversy, my research included a non-political, non-polemical medical textbook, ‘The Unborn Patient: Prenatal Diagnosis and Treatment’ by Harrison, Globus and Filly, published by W.B. Saunders, a division of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

“What first jolted me, forcing me to read it more than once, was: ‘The concept that the fetus is a patient, an individual whose maladies are a proper subject for medical treatment as well as scientific observation, is alarmingly modern. Only now are we beginning to consider the fetus seriously, medically, legally and ethically.’

“Thus began my controversial path as a pro-lifer. Some women reporters I knew stopped speaking to me.”

In nutshell, Hentoff followed the facts. In the years to come, he wrote brilliantly, insightfully about abortion. Many of those columns were reprinted in National Right to Life News.

But if possible Hentoff was even more important in his investigative reporting about babies who were born with major infirmities and “allowed” to die. He was practically on his own, which made his contributions absolutely indispensable.

Two entire generations of pro-lifers have grown up since “Baby Doe,” a child with Down syndrome. He was born with a deformed esophagus and routine surgery was required to repair the problem so that baby could eat.

The surgery was not performed nor was the baby fed intravenously. He starved to death. Nat wrote about that hideous case and others like it and exposed the medical mentality that was eager to tell parents of Down syndrome babies lacked “sufficient quality of life.”

I could go on and on, but I just wanted you to know that while Nat has paid a heavy price, it was for performing heroic duty.

Categories: Pro-Lifers