Nat Hentoff, Rest in Peace

By Dave Andrusko

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

Nat Hentoff

“This is Nat.” Such were the opening three words to every phone conversation I ever had over a 25-year span with the great Nat Hentoff. I would respond with some pleasantry and then Nat would cut to the chase.

He was writing on topic “A” and (1) Nat knew he had read something in NRL News about the matter, and (2) could I provide him with further background material? And don’t email the information; mail it to him at his New York City address. A kindred soul.

I was always flattered and did my best to be of assistance to a man who’s breadth of interest ranged from jazz legends Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, and Louis Armstrong; to the First Amendment (his book, “Free Speech for Me — But Not for Thee,” encapsulated his views); to “Baby Jane Doe,” whose real name was Keri Lynn. She was born with spina bifida and was the subject of a titanic legal battle when her parents refused to allow her to have corrective spinal surgery after birth. The last I read about Keri Lynn was a story in 2013 headlined, “’Baby Jane Doe’ at 30: Happy, joking, learning.”

Nat died Saturday at 91 years of age.

In its obituary, the New York Times observed that “While his sympathies were usually libertarian, he often infuriated leftist friends with his opposition to abortion, his attacks on political correctness…and others he accused of trying to censor opponents.”

Many obituaries mention what they saw as an anomaly. A man of no professed faith, a civil libertarian’s civil libertarian, an unabashed liberal who was also pro-life.

But Nat saw no incongruity. Treating the unborn and babies born with disabilities with respect and affording them the same legal protection everyone else enjoys was as natural to Nat as his inherent contrarianism.

Few remember that Nat entered the pro-life tent through the flap of resistance to infanticide. His six-part Village Voice series on Keri Lynn is investigative reporting at its finest. (With Nat’s permission, we reprinted them in NRL News.) Only after seeing the logic of abortion extended to newborns did Nat go back and examine the underlying injustice of abortion.

In less than two weeks, we have lost two of my pro-life heroes–Nat and Jean Garton. One a self-described Jewish atheist, the other a devout Lutheran married to a Lutheran pastor. Such is the breadth, depth, and width of our Movement whose borders expand everyday into new territory.

Rest in peace, Nat. I hope I was 1/1,000 as helpful to you as you were to the greatest movement for social justice of our time.