As Dr. Willie Parker was contemplating the moral dilemma of becoming an abortionist after more than a decade in medicine, he had an epiphany while listening to one of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches.
Parker, who was raised Protestant in Birmingham, Alabama, was in the habit of revisiting King’s sermons and as “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” echoed in his ears, King’s retelling of the Bible’s Good Samaritan parable resonated with him.
King proposed that the priest and another man who passed the injured victim of a robbery without helping him were afraid, asking themselves “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” However, the Good Samaritan stopped and asked himself “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” King theorized.
Parker drew parallels to his situation: As he ruminated, compassion for his patients won out trumped the nagging question of what would people think of him for providing abortions.
“I never opposed abortion or tried to block a woman from having them,” he said of his 12 years as an obstetrician and gynecologist and not performing the procedure.
“But I had to decide what it meant to my own personal values to provide the service. … I became more concerned about what happens to women when abortion care isn’t available for them than what might happen to me for providing it.”
Parker spoke with The Frontier this week between public appearances in New Orleans, Chicago and Atlanta. He’s one of six panelists who will participate in a public reproductive justice forum, “My God My Body My Decision,” at All Souls Unitarian Church on Saturday night and will address the congregation Sunday morning with a message titled “Jesus and the A-Word.”
He currently performs abortions in Alabama, Georgia and at the last abortion clinic operating in Mississippi, where the state’s attorney general has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a ruling that struck down a requirement that abortion providers maintain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. A similar mandate passed in Oklahoma last year but has been blocked pending a U.S. Supreme Court ruling of a similar provision enacted in Texas.
“I think reproductive justice is a specific context in which to pursue social justice and human rights,” Parker said.
“And I think the only voice coming out of religious organizations or out of faith communities has been the loud voice of people who oppose women’s rights to make decisions about their reproductive health.”
Despite varying levels of access to abortion through the healthcare system in the United States, the stigma some faith communities put on abortion presents another obstacle for patients in the form of shame and marginalization, he argues.
He described Oklahoma as one of the states most hostile, or restrictive, to abortion and the country as a whole as “in a cycle of devolution” on the issue.
Conservative politicians’ dominance of the U.S. House of Representatives beginning five years ago and a subsequent “sweep of conservative lawmakers and governors and local policymakers” led to the passage of at least 200 pieces of legislation that impede access to abortions, Parker said.
This year alone, Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law new mandates regarding dilation and evacuation procedures, the mandatory waiting period before receiving an abortion and the collection of fetal tissue samples from certain patients. All of them have been challenged by abortion providers.
The Oklahoma Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Act prohibits the most common form of abortion during the second trimester of pregnancy, or dilation and evacuation abortion. An Oklahoma County district court judge granted a temporary injunction blocking enactment of the law Oct. 28 in a pending lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of Reproductive Services in Tulsa.
The same judge denied an injunction for an amendment increasing the mandatory waiting period for patients from 24 hours to 72, allowing it to go into effect Nov. 1.
A suit filed Tuesday by a Norman abortion provider further extended a stay on another new mandate requiring fetal tissue samples from patients under 14 be sent to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation for rape investigations.
Two Senate abortion bills failed to pass this spring. One required an abortion provider to test for a fetal heartbeat and give written notification “the unborn human individual that the pregnant woman is carrying has a fetal heartbeat.” The other, which passed the Senate and died in the House, would add drug use while pregnant to the criminal definition of assault.
Among the existing requirements are an “individual abortion form,” or eight-page questionnaire, the provider is required to submit to the state Health Department and a ban on abortions after 20 weeks gestation, except when medically necessary, both of which were enacted in 2011.
Parental consent is required for minor patients, and Oklahoma is among 18 states that mandate abortion-inducing drugs must be taken in the presence of the prescribing physician, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a sexual and reproductive health advocacy group.
Insurance coverage for abortion (including plans offered through the Affordable Care Act and those offered to public employees) is only available for women whose pregnancy poses a risk of death, unless an optional rider is purchased at an additional cost. Public funding can only be used in cases of life endangerment, incest or rape.
A number of abortion bills were drafted in 2013; many of which failed to pass. They included:
- A joint resolution prohibiting discrimination against medical professionals who refuse to perform abortions or sterilization procedures or to provide contraception for moral or religious reasons.
- A Senate bill that would have exempted employers from providing health insurance plans that covered care related to abortion or contraception.
- A House bill against non-therapeutic research on human embryos.
- A House bill granting constitutional rights at the point of conception to embryos and fetuses, which would have banned abortion and many forms of contraception.
A law passed in 2014 restricting abortion by medication was ruled unconstitutional by a district court judge in August but is pending appeal to the state Supreme Court.
Reproductive Justice Weekend
My God My Body My Decision
Panelists: Dr. Willie Parker, Bishop Carlton Pearson and Rev. Barbara Prose, Kimberly Butler of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, Rep. Jeannie McDaniel and Kirsten Havig, a local researcher on sex trafficking
7-9 p.m. Saturday
Jesus and the A-Word
Speaker: Dr. Willie Parker
10 a.m. Sunday
The Unknown God
Speaker: Dr. Willie Parker
11:30 a.m. Sunday
All events to be held at: All Souls Unitarian Church, 2952 S. Peoria Ave.