BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Meet Dr. Willie Parker. He is one heck of a courageous man. Chances are you've never met anyone like him.
He grew up dirt poor in Birmingham, Alabama; as a teenager he accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, and was a "boy preacher in Baptist churches"; he was "the first black student body president of a mostly white high school"; he went to Harvard, became a college professor, and successful obstetrician "who delivered thousands of babies and refused to do abortions."
Dr. Willie Parker had what some might call a second "come to Jesus" moment, deciding "to give up his fancy career to become an abortion provider" -- for the poorest of the poor and the most needy -- at the only surviving abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi. These days, he travels a "circuit roughly similar ... to the one traveled by Dr. David Gunn before an anti-abortion fanatic assassinated him in 1993."
Dr. Parker's "name and home address have been published by an antiabortion Web site with the unmistakable intent of terrorizing doctors like him. ...[and] he receives threats that say, 'You've been warned.'"
We know this about the 51-year-old Dr. Parker because of John H. Richardson's remarkable piece published in the September issue of Esquire magazine. Richardson's story, titled simply enough, "The Abortion Ministry Of Dr. Willie Parker," profiles Dr. Parker and takes us inside a Jackson, Mississippi, clinic known as the "Pink House," which owes its name to "the defiant woman who owns it [having] painted it pink to make it stand out, bold and unashamed."
Richardson pointed out that, "about 2,000 abortions a year, out of a total of 6,000 performed on women who live in the state of Mississippi," are performed in the Pink House. Dr. Parker also works at a clinic in Montgomery, Alabama, one of the last three abortion clinics in that state.
Richardson described Dr. Parker's evolution: "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."
According to Richardson, Dr. Parker "gave up obstetrics to become a full-time abortionist on the day, five years ago, that George Tiller was murdered in church."
An unrelenting and uncompromising anti-abortion movement
Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, has promised to make Mississippi "an abortion-free zone,"
Unrelenting, remorseless, uncompromising, clever, and politically savvy, are just some words describing the modern-day anti-abortion movement. As the murder of Wichita, Kansas' Dr. George Tiller while attending church services in 2009 showed, certain elements of the movement are not above acts of terrorism.
According to vox.com's Sarah Kliff, "Eight abortion providers have been murdered in the past two decades, and another 17 have been victims of attempted murders."
At the same time anti-abortion protesters are shouting at, harassing and intimidating patients as they arrive at health care clinics, frightening landlords out of renting to abortion providers, handing out scurrilous leaflets in neighborhoods where doctors who perform abortions live, harassing the children of abortion providers, other "pro-life" activists have taken their cause to state legislatures, helping pass restrictive anti-abortion laws, including such things as "a twenty-four hour waiting period, parental consent, [forced] face-to-face counseling with the physician, and a ban on the use of Medicaid funding (except in extraordinary cases)."
One of the latest iterations is the state-imposed requirement that abortion providers have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital; a requirement that the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists say is medically unnecessary.
That battle is being fought out in at least nine states, including Mississippi. In addition, the state of Mississippi "has passed in the past four years at least five laws restricting abortion access," Sarah Kliff pointed out in her piece titled "A Constant Battle." It "has prohibited plans sold on Obamacare's health insurance exchange from covering abortion in nearly all situations. It has banned telemedicine prescriptions of RU-486, the pill that causes abortions. And in 2012, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed House Bill 1390 — the one that now threatens to shut down the clinic where Parker works."
Admitting privileges laws have faced different outcomes in different states. According to vox.com's Kliff, "In July, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found the restriction to be an unconstitutional violation of abortion rights that placed 'a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion in Mississippi.'
The Fifth Circuit's ruling put the admitting privilege law on hold, meaning Parker could keep running his practice. But the decision is not the final word: another panel ruled in favor of a very similar law in Texas. Observers expect that, with the split opinions, the case will likely head to the Supreme Court."
Inside the Pink House
Inside the Pink House, a group of women – some of whom have traveled a considerable distance -- are seated in a circle, waiting for Dr. Parker. When he arrives, he greets them and begins, as he must, by reciting state mandated regulations; accompanied by the doctor's clarifying remarks. "Some of the information I'm required to give you is designed to discourage you or to scare you about the decision you're making, so I'm going to tell you the things that I have to tell you by law, but I'm also going to tell you what in my best medical opinion is more important for you to know."
Dr. Parker recites the litany of state-required information; talking about possible serious complications, life threatening infections, or, as Esquire's Richardson points out "damage to the bowel, fallopian tubes, ovaries, or bladder... [and] a possibility that their womb could be so severely injured a hysterectomy would be required, which would mean they couldn't have babies in the future." With this news, the faces of the women become even more somber. The still ones remain completely still; the nervous ones get more nervous.
"But guess what?" he continues with another reassuring smile. "Those are all the exact same risks that go with having a baby. In fact, they're more likely to happen giving birth than they are with an abortion; a woman is ten times more likely to die in childbirth than she is having an abortion."
Clearly anti-abortion state legislators and the governor have achieved one of their goals: scare these women as much as humanly possible; scare them enough so they walk out the door.
But Dr. Parker has some reassuring news: "Those are all the exact same risks that go with having a baby. In fact, they're more likely to happen giving birth than they are with an abortion; a woman is ten times more likely to die in childbirth than she is having an abortion."
The state also requires that Dr. Parker tell the women "that if the reason you are having an abortion is financial, then the person you are pregnant by could be required to provide you with financial assistance." He also informs them that he is required to offer them a brochure with "information about adoption and other things that you might find useful," (the women are not required to take them).
Dr. Parker moves on to the final requirement, the one he says he "object[s] to the most as a scientist and as a doctor." "I'm required by law to tell you that having an abortion increases your risk for breast cancer. There is no scientific or medical evidence that supports that. The people against abortion outside yell that at women all the time. But the overwhelming majority of the studies show that that's not the case. Abortions actually protect your health."
Dr. Parker then discusses the medical details and he answers all of their questions, before going into private consultations with each of the women.
"The last thing I want to say is a lot of times when you come, there might be protesters. There are people that are going to be telling you that what you're doing is wrong. It's immoral. That you can't be a Christian. That you're going to hell. And a lot of women that bothers. Because there are women here who also have a religious belief, who also feel like they're Christians."
"I see women who are crying because they are Christians," he continues, "and they are torn up by the fact that they don't believe in abortion but they're about to have one. What I tell them is that doesn't make you a hypocrite. You can never say what you will do until you're in the situation, and Christians get in jacked-up situations, too."
"And I address this because if those people are getting inside your head and you're feeling conflicted, if you are not comfortable with what you're doing, you may be processing this far longer than you need to. There's nothing immoral about taking care of your health. There's nothing immoral about making the decision to not become a parent before you want to become one. There's more than one way to understand religion and spirituality and God. I do have belief in God. That's why I do this work. My belief in God tells me that the most important thing you can do for another human being is help them in their time of need."
The battle over reproductive rights will not end any time in the near future. Anti-abortion forces have become more crafty, deceptive and devious, and state-imposed restrictions have become more insidious. Dr. Parker, and other doctors like him, are trying to hold the line; providing women with health care services they need. They are doing so at their own peril.
"The protesters say they're opposed to abortion because they're Christian," Parker told Richardson. "It's hard for them to accept that I do abortions because I'm a Christian."