Dr. Parker was introduced to religion at a young age, and since then, it was ingrained in his mind that abortions were wrong. At age 15, he had converted to a fundamentalist form of Christianity, preached in Baptist churches, and knocked on doors to promise salvation through God. Later in life, Parker became an obstetrician but because of his faith, he refused to administer abortions to women in need.
“As a young person,” Parker says in the 2017 Newsweek article that tells his story, “my Christian identity was far more important to me than interrogating the inconsistencies of my faith.”(1)
According to Newsweek, it was a recording of Martin Luther King Jr.’s final sermon, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” that flipped a switch for him. He realized his refusal to engage with inconsistencies stemmed from a fear of what other Christians would think of him. After the sermon, his outlook changed. “I found myself more willing to be defined by how I respond to injustice than about accommodating customs and norms that are rooted in injustice,” said Parker in a Rolling Stone Article.(2)
Informed by his own experiences of race and class discrimination, Parker compares restrictions on abortion to the oppression of slavery—in both cases, someone claims to know what’s best for another individual and exerts control over that person’s autonomy.
“It’s a softball for me, because I often feel animosity and hate from people who draw back at the assertion that what makes reproductive control and slavery analogous is that, as Dr. King said about what was immoral about slavery, was that slavery relegated human beings to the status of things” Parker says, “…And so when women are denied control over their bodies and they’re forced to continue pregnancies by being subordinated to the interests of the pregnancy that they’re carrying, they are relegated to the status of things. They become incubators. They become a means to an end.”
Parker became an abortion provider in 2002. He stopped practicing obstetrics to focus entirely on providing safe abortions for women, leaving his penthouse condo in Honolulu to devote his life to a calling as a traveling abortion provider in the South.
In his new memoir, Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice, Parker writes, “I believe that as an abortion provider, I am doing God’s work… I am protecting women’s rights, their human right to decide their futures for themselves, and to live their lives as they see fit.”(3)
Parker doesn’t dismiss that a fetus is alive, but rather argues that sperm and eggs are also alive. “Life is a process,” he writes. “It is not a switch that turns on in an instant, like an electric light.”
But many on the opposing side say Parker isn’t a Christian. On that point, he says his religion isn’t up for debate. If Christianity is defined by being “obligated to be homophobic, to be anti-immigrant, to be anti-non-Christian, to be anti-woman,” he tells Newsweek, “then I’m not. But I’m glad it’s not up to an individual interpretation of another person who holds the same faith identity that I do to determine my authenticity or my integrity.”
Dr. Parker currently provides care for pregnant people in states where abortion access is most at risk: AL, GA, IL, MS, PA. He is also working against the federal case trying to eliminate the only abortion clinic left in Mississippi.
For Newsweek, he estimated that he sees 50 women on his busiest day, performs at least 1,000 abortions a year and has completed more than 10,000 over his career.
We would like to thank Michele Gorman for reporting this story in her Newsweek article, “Why Southern Christian Doctor Willie Parker Changed His Mind About Performing Abortions,” from which this piece is heavily sourced.
Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice (his book!)
Research and contributions by: Alisa Festagallo, Lover + Yogi, CA
(1) Gorman, Michele. “Southern Christian Abortion Provider Willie Parker: ‘I Am Doing God’s Work’.” Newsweek, 19 July 2017, www.newsweek.com/christian-doctor-willie-parker-abortion-provider-choice-book-580142.
(2) Cruz, Caitlin. “Dr. Willie Parker Wants to Take Back the Moral High Ground on Abortion.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 25 June 2018, www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/dr-willie-parker-wants-to-take-back-the-moral-high-ground-on-abortion-107973/.
(3) Parker, Willie. Life’s Work: from the Trenches, a Moral Argument for Choice. 37 Ink/Atria, 2017.