For the first 12 years of his medical practice, Dr. Willie Parker didn’t perform abortions. A Christian from Alabama, he didn’t feel comfortable participating in the procedure. But then he changed his mind — and he credits that reversal to his faith.
“In listening to a sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King, I came to a deeper understanding of my spirituality, which places a higher value on compassion,” Parker recounted in an interview with the New Jersey Star-Ledger. “King said what made the good Samaritan ‘good’ is that instead of focusing on would happen to him by stopping to help the traveler, he was more concerned about what would happen to the traveler if he didn’t stop to help. I became more concerned about what would happen to these women if I, as an obstetrician, did not help them.”
Now, Parker is one of the doctors who flies in from out of state to provide care for patients at Mississippi’s last abortion clinic. He’s also one of the dwindling number of medical professionals who perform abortions up to 24 weeks of pregnancy — a practice that Republicans are attempting to outlaw by passing 20-week abortion bans, which are already in place in several states.
Most Americans are uncomfortable with later abortion procedures, assuming they’re inherently gruesome. That perception has been furthered by the anti-choice community’s claim that fetuses can “feel pain” after 20 weeks, even though there’s no scientific evidence to back that up. But Parker continues to perform these type of abortions because the women who need them are typically in desperate circumstances.
The women who need later abortion care are disproportionately young and poor. They’re the women who lack access to health care or a family support structure, and didn’t initially realize they were pregnant. They’re the women who struggled to get to a clinic earlier because they don’t own a car or can’t take time off work. They’re the women who discover their pregnancy is doomed because their fetus has fatal defects.
“Starting with those women as the ones you’d cut off is kind of ironic, because they have the most compelling reasons to consider abortion in the first place,” Parker explained to the Star-Ledger. That’s why his faith leads him to use his medical expertise to help them.
When the public has the same kind of context that Parker does, they tend to agree with him. When Americans are given more information about the specific reasons that women may need a later abortion, they oppose imposing 20-week bans on the procedure.
This isn’t the first time that Parker has drawn connections between his Christian faith and his work as an abortion provider. Last year, in an interview with the Center for American Progress, Parker explained that he knew he had to start providing abortions because “it became this conviction of compassion in a spiritual sense of the deepest level of love that you can have for another person, that you can have compassion for their suffering and you can act to relieve it.”
Although abortion opponents have been quick to attack Parker’s faith, suggesting that his line of work is incompatible with Christianity, he’s hardly the only religious person who supports reproductive rights.
Before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion over 40 years ago, a group of 1400 religious leaders formed the “Clergy Consultation Service” to help refer women to safe abortion options, believing it was their ethical responsibility to prevent women from dying. Now, most religious groups don’t actually support overturning Roe, and faith leaders continue to advocate for access to safe abortion around the globe. Here in the United States, a coalition of faith-based organizations recently launched a campaign to encourage religious Americans to speak up for women’s right to choose.