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Dr Willie Parker, the only abortion doctor in Mississippi

I hope this excellent profile of Dr. Willie Parker doesn’t make him a target, but that’s the sad state of American life right now. He’s a good man doing good work, and he also happens to be a Christian…but don’t hold that against him.

After medical school, he bought a big house and a nice car and overstuffed his refrigerator the way people from poverty do, but those satisfactions soon seemed empty. He dated but never quite settled down. Inspired by Gandhi’s idea that the Gospel should appear to a hungry man in the form of bread, he went to work in a food pantry. But gradually, the steady stream of women with reproductive issues in his practice focused his mind. He thought about his mother and sisters and the grandmother who died in childbirth and began to read widely in the literature of civil rights and feminism. Eventually he came across the concept of "reproductive justice," developed by black feminists who argued that the best way to raise women out of poverty is to give them control of their reproductive decisions. Finally, he had his "come to Jesus" moment and the bell rang. This would be his civil-rights struggle. He would serve women in their darkest moment of need. "The protesters say they’re opposed to abortion because they’re Christian," Parker says. "It’s hard for them to accept that I do abortions because I’m a Christian." He gave up obstetrics to become a full-time abortionist on the day, five years ago, that George Tiller was murdered in church.

He also has a rational perspective on development, in which it’s the woman who is the important one.

Growing reflective, he continues to study the parts. "The reality is we’ve disrupted a life process. There are recognizable fetal parts, right? The capacity for this development is always there. After five weeks, you just have the sac. At six weeks, you have a fetal pole with cardiac activity. At seven to eight weeks, it’s just a larger fetal pole. By nine, it’s differentiated."

But here’s the vital question: Is it a person? Not by the standards of the law, he says. Is it viable outside the womb? It is not. So this piece of life—and remember, sperm is alive, eggs are alive, it’s all life—is still totally dependent on a woman. And that dependence puts it in the domain of her choice. "That’s what I embrace," he says.

But it’s hard not to look at those tiny fingers, no bigger than the tip of a toothpick.

Does that ever disturb him?

"When I recognize whole fetal parts? No. Because I’m not deluded about what this whole process is."

It’s a long article. You should read the whole thing, though.

Comments

  1. karmacat says

    It is an excellent article. I think we do need more personal stories about abortion. I think it dispels the myth that women who have an abortion are selfish and impulsive. Abortion is a more complex issue that the anti-abortion people don’t want to face

  2. feministhomemaker says

    I sent that clinic a large donation after reading the article in Esquire and seeing Rachel Maddow’s coverage of the same clinic and the woman doctor who also does abortions there. She is 74 years old. I hope he and the clinic face my sort of targeting after this big news coverage and not the other kind!

  3. dianne says

    Dr. Parker is a brave man and if being a Christian helps him deal with the threats and abuse, I’m not going to judge him.

  4. Esteleth is Groot says

    Every now and then I hear of a religious person who is truly admirable – Dr. Parker is such a person. I can’t help but think that if he were TYPICAL of the religious, I wouldn’t have a problem with religion (I mean, I’d still think it silly and illogical, but I’d not be angry about religion).

    In any case, good for Dr. Parker! I find him genuinely admirable.

  5. toska says

    But it’s hard not to look at those tiny fingers, no bigger than the tip of a toothpick.

    Does that ever disturb him?

    “When I recognize whole fetal parts? No. Because I’m not deluded about what this whole process is.”

    I love this. He is reasonable, intelligent, and he’s not going to pretend to be ashamed for PR. Of course, many will interpret this statement as callous or evil. He’s brave for saying it anyway.

  6. saganite says

    It takes some serious guts to not only do this kind of work in Mississippi of all places, but to focus entirely on it in the last friggin’ abortion clinic in that entire state. That’s risky. It’s a singular target for Christian fundamentalist terrorists.

    Also, I wonder how long it’ll be before the likes of Bill O’Reilly find a threatening, murder-inciting nickname for this guy like they did with George Tiller (“the baby killer”), who, by the way, was also a Christian and was murdered in a church.

    I could speculate on possible nicknames (like… I dunno… Parker, “the baby-killin’ bersarker”, the typo is intentional for rhyming purposes) but I don’t really want to give them ideas.

  7. feministhomemaker says

    Back when I was eighteen I got pregnant twice within 5 months and had an abortion each time. That was when only NY and CAL had legal abortions so I had to fly to LA to get mine done. I wrote a letter to the clinic with my donation and described what that experience was like and what I learned from it: “that experience shocked me with the realization that it isn’t just abortions that stop certain babies from being born. Pregnancies do the same! And abortions can enable life to be conceived. For it became clear, since I was 8 weeks pregnant in my first abortion, that the second fetus would never have come into being. I would have been 7 months pregnant when I had sex for that second possible conception had I not aborted the first fetus. PREGNANCY can stop an individual life from coming into being and ABORTION can allow for it to begin.”

    Thereafter, I always laughed when anyone ever said, “but you wouldn’t be here if your mom had aborted you.” Yeah, and I wouldn’t be here if she had been pregnant when she had the sex that could have conceived me, too! Or if she had bowed out from that particular sex with a headache! Or my father had decided to jerk off instead, not wanting to disturb my mom. Lots of things could have kept me from being here. He could have been sent out of town by his employer during the time the egg and sperm that made me was ready to come together. Bad employer! And abortion is one thing that could have allowed me to be here had my mom been pregnant during the period when I could have been conceived.

    Had I decided to stay pregnant the second time, I often wonder which ” prolife” activist would tell that born child it should not be here because the first pregnancy should have been allowed to continue to fruition, making it, the second person impossible to have been conceived.

    I don’t tell this story often because who wants to admit having 2 abortions within 5 months! But at age 61 I look back gently and recall my catholic upbringing, no birth control education, my fierce desire to claim my sexual self for myself after having experienced so much sexual coercion of it by others, and I understand. I went on to have another child (I already had a 1 year old when I had those abortions) and a miscarriage later on. All on my schedule. My main motivation for having the abortions was to have nothing jeapardize my first child’s opportunities and my ability to provide for obvious needs. A mother’s love is fierce and deep.

  8. feministhomemaker says

    Just to be clear, my understanding is that it is the only abortion clinic in Mississippi but I believe there are two doctors who perform abortions there. One is Dr. Parker, of whom Esquire did the excellent profile, and the other is a woman doctor Rachel Maddow profiled in a short segment on her show. The woman doctor was kept incognito by showing only her torso and legs as she sat and spoke to the camera. She said she was 74 years old and would never stop until women could obtain the care they needed without the gauntlet of hateful protesters blocking the clinic entrance. Both doctors are so brave, as is the owner of the clinic, who may actually be the woman doctor, I am not sure. I was immensely moved by the Esquire article’s portrayal of Dr. Parker’s sensitive, skillful ways he provided comfort to the women, easing their anxieties, in addition to the abortions.

  9. Pteryxx says

    Dr. Parker gave up his obstetrics practice five years ago, when Dr. Tiller was murdered, and for the last two years he’s been public and outspoken. Salon article from January 2013

    One of two doctors who work at JWHO, Parker travels to Mississippi from his home in Chicago, where he works in another family planning clinic, for three-day work stints just once or twice a month. But with his decision last year to use his name in the suit that is now the clinic’s only hope of remaining open (the other physician plaintiff goes by “Dr. John Doe”), he has become the public face of the latest legal fight to defend Mississippi’s sole remaining abortion clinic—and opened himself to some of the ugliest local anti-abortion hostility in the nation.

    […]

    The passel of protestors regularly yell at Parker when he walks to the front of the clinic, saying he’s “killing off his own race” and a “gift of the KKK.”

    “I can’t say I don’t have anxiety when I pull up in front of the place where I work or when I see that look in some of their eyes,” says Parker. “But if you think too much about that, it gets bigger than it really is.” Instead, he often lets his mind go back, once again, to Martin Luther King, Jr.

    “I draw a lot of strength from thinking about how he faced more explicit danger and threats, yet continued to focus on the work he thought it was right to do.”

  10. says

    thefeministhomemaker @7:

    I don’t tell this story often because who wants to admit having 2 abortions within 5 months!

    Thanks for sharing your story. I support the right of women to have as many abortions as they feel they need, so 2 in 5 months or 8 in five months doesn’t matter to me. Your body, your decision. I’ll sit on the sidelines and give my support for the right to choose.

    ****

    karmacat @1:

    It is an excellent article. I think we do need more personal stories about abortion. I think it dispels the myth that women who have an abortion are selfish and impulsive. Abortion is a more complex issue that the anti-abortion people don’t want to face

    I agree. More stories that highlight the issue in a realistic fashion, rather than the faux narratives created by the ANTIs.
    I find it funny that some people feel that abortion is an impulsive decision. Many states (like Mississippi) don’t have that many options for obtaining an abortion. For many women seeking an abortion, they’re forced to remain pregnant longer than they want due to financial reasons, or lack of time, or their state doesn’t have a convenient abortion provider. It isn’t much of an impulsive decision when they have wait one or two months (or longer) to get the procedure done.
    As for selfish? If a woman decides she wants to remain childfree and not have the responsibility of children, some might call that selfish, but I won’t. I think that’s a perfectly fine reason (not that my opinion on this matter counts). And even if it was selfish, it still doesn’t matter. Her life. Her body. Her choice.

    ****
    dianne @3:

    Dr. Parker is a brave man and if being a Christian helps him deal with the threats and abuse, I’m not going to judge him.

    Nor am I. He’s one of the good people who’s religious beliefs are used to justify the good they do. I hope he keeps up the good job for a long time to come.

    ****

    toska @5:
    Another thing I loved is that Dr. Parker doesn’t mince words during his orientation. He does what the law tells him to, but then tells the truth from a medical and scientific perspective. I also appreciate his manner: calm, reassuring, supportive, mildly humorous.

  11. says

    Dianne @ 3:

    Dr. Parker is a brave man and if being a Christian helps him deal with the threats and abuse, I’m not going to judge him.

    During the days of Jane, a great many of those collaborating to help women obtain an abortion were Christian ministers. Most of the doctors were Christian, too. Christianity isn’t a bar to doing the right thing. When it comes to abortion, there are people who view a situation with empathy and compassion, and there are people who view a situation with judgement and a need to control.

  12. says

    Tony:

    If a woman decides she wants to remain childfree and not have the responsibility of children, some might call that selfish, but I won’t.

    As a childfree person, my decision to abort was in my self interest, there’s no question about that. It would be a very bad idea for me to have a child, and those who know me are aware of the reasons why, which sit underneath the fact that I have never wanted them.

    The selfish argument annoys the hell out of me, because yes, it’s [obtaining a termination] selfish. It’s also damn selfish to have children. Human beings do pretty much everything for selfish reasons.

  13. dianne says

    This statement from the article seems to me to be one of the most telling: To patients of color, they say, “You’re going to kill the next Obama, you’re going to kill the next Martin Luther King.”

    Doesn’t it ever occur to the protestors that the woman they’re yelling at could BE the next Obama or MLK–if she gets a chance. If she’s being constantly forced to have children she doesn’t want or can’t afford, she won’t have that chance. They want to take the person she could be from her. It’s an act of murder more than abortion ever could be and more cruel because it involves destroying a real, not just an imaginary, person.

  14. dianne says

    Meta: The quote was supposed to be in comic sans. Clearly I did something wrong…

  15. Rey Fox says

    I hate “selfish” too, not only because it’s a charge often levied by people with some vested interest of their own. But because the implication is that the accused is hoarding something for themselves and keeping it from others. An abortion withholds nothing from others. Unless you accept that the fetus is a full person (or more than a person, as it turns out), or that the woman is withholding some precious snowflake from the doting, braying masses that they’re somehow entitled to.

  16. applebeverage says

    Parker’s beaming again, grinning wide. If this happened to men, he says, abortion would be free and they’d pass out free Super Bowl tickets and have public ceremonies to celebrate our brothers who went through the tough decision.

    Pretty disgusting to see that cissexism this blatant is still a prevalent thing. Men do get pregnant and need abortions. Trans men. And it can be really dangerous for them, for the usual reasons plus a lot of reasons unique to their situation. And it’s not free, and they don’t get Super Bowl tickets, and there certainly aren’t public ceremonies because it’s being done for very private reasons.