The Christian doctor who does abortions

Dr. Willie Parker

Dr. Willie Parker


In Mississippi, there is only one clinic where a woman can go if she needs an abortion. The state is trying to close it down. At that clinic, there is a doctor who tends to the needs of these women, and he has to fly in from out of state to do it. There is no shutting him down.

That’s the intro to yet another powerful, in-depth piece in Esquire magazine, titled “The Abortion Ministry of Dr. Willie Parker.”

Written by John H. Richardson, it’s the profile of a man who is “perfectly bald, with a salt-and-pepper goatee, a small gold hoop gleaming in his left ear, and a warm smile on his dark brown face.” Based in Chicago, he is one of two doctors who travel to Mississippi to perform abortions in a state that has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

The piece is marvelous in reviewing the politics that got us to this place and in sketching a portrait of a man who dares to perform a service to low-income women — mostly of color — that few doctors are willing to do provide.

Two passages stood out for me.

One describes the 51-year-old Parker, noting that his patients know little about him:

They don’t know that he grew up a few hours away in Birmingham, the second youngest son of a single mother who raised six children on food stamps and welfare, so poor that he taught himself to read by a kerosene lamp and went to the bathroom in an outhouse; that he was born again in his teenage years and did a stint as a boy preacher in Baptist churches; that he became the first black student-body president of a mostly white high school, went on to Harvard and a distinguished career as a college professor and obstetrician who delivered thousands of babies and refused to do abortions.

"We know what happens when abortion is illegal," Parker says. "Women suffer and they die. But when abortion is safe and legal, patient mortality goes virtually to zero."

“We know what happens when abortion is illegal,” Parker says. “Women suffer and they die. But when abortion is safe and legal, patient mortality goes virtually to zero.”

The second describes his conversion, when he decided to give up a lucrative career to become an abortion doctor. He was  reading the literature of civil rights and feminism and…

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.”

Richardson holds back nothing in describing the medical procedure that ends a pregnancy. But neither does he hold back anything in describing the protesters who scream at women as they enter or leave the abortion clinic nor the conservative movement that seeks to impose layers of regulation aiming at making abortions ever more difficult to obtain.

It’s a helluva piece. And Dr. Willie Parker is one helluva human being.

Photographs: Maisie Crow



3 thoughts on “The Christian doctor who does abortions

  1. That there is only one clinic offering abortions in Mississippi brings my blood to a full boil and that this kind man dedicates some of his time to this clinic, knowing the risk to his personal safety (hell, his life), brings it down to a simmer again.

    Why does it seem to be generally men who protest women’s reproductive rights?!? I used to have a bumper sticker when George H.W. Bush was president – “Bush: Stay out of mine!” – that I proudly displayed in a conservative county (Benton County in eastern Washington). I read an article some years ago that the world will not improve until … not when we deal with environmental issues or issues around poverty or any number of other issues but until first we educate girls and women generally and in particular on their reproductive rights. I had not considered this as first before, yet clearly is truth … yet so many societies on this small planet do not get this.

    I recall years ago when living in Albuquerque a story in the Albuquerque Journal. A young woman tried to enter an abortion clinic knowing she already had a couple of children and could not afford any more. The religious protestors outside the clinic convinced her not to go in and she changed her mind. A few years later there was another story in the paper about her, this time informing the community the state had taken this child from her, a victim of abuse. She knew she could not properly care for and raise this child, yet the religious community convinced her she should. Note they did NOT offer to raise and care for this child! Any suffering on this woman’s part, and her child, belongs on the hands of these religious people who blame without offering help and solutions. Pardon my blood boiling again …

    You see, for me it’s personal. I began my 10th grade year in high school pregnant. It was 1970 and abortions had just been legalized in New York City. My parents intervened (forcefully) and took care of “the problem”. I hated them then but have spent the rest of my life eternally grateful for their intervention – their action saved my life and the life this fetus, had it developed into a person, would have suffered because of my stupid mistakes as a young person.

    I recently finished the good book, “Leaving Cecil Street”, by Diane McKinney-Whetstone about a community in 1969 Philadelphia, where (in part of the story) a young black girl gets a botched abortion in somebody’s home because it is not legal. We don’t need a return to that time. This man gives many Christians a very bad name while truly exemplifying what being a Christian means.

    • Lynn,

      You too are a helluva human being. Who knew that our initial exchange of emails a few years ago would lead to this friendship and sharing of views and experiences on everything from politics and tattoos to family and life’s milestones?

      I am not surprised by your comments here. I share your outrage. I continue to shake my head at the stubbornness of so many Southern politicians and their constituents, who STILL seek to impose their religious values and others through punitive laws aimed at restricting individual freedoms. Even, or especially, in matters of life and death.

      I admire you, too, for sharing your very personal experiences here. I take pride in knowing that Rough and Rede II (and its predecessor) has been a safe haven for such revelations, thanks to you and many others.

      Glad to have you in my life.

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