“I know every facet of abortion,” he wrote. “I helped nurture the creature in its infancy by feeding it great draughts of blood and money; I guided it through its adolescence as it grew fecklessly out of control.”

“I am one of those,” as he later wrote, “who helped usher in this barbaric age,” and he spent the last 30 years of his life trying to atone for it.

His journey began with personal experience. Born in 1926, Nathanson was in medical school in Canada in 1949 when his girlfriend told him she was pregnant. Appropriating money from his father, he paid for her illegal abortion. The experience​—​and the desperate effort to justify what he had done​—​led him by the mid-1960s to become one of the nation’s most prominent advocates for legalized abortion.

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