Heroism can mean a variety of things to different people. Firefighters. Police officers. Active duty military members serving on the front lines. Lawyers have been called heroes, as have politicians. Doctors too.
There is one member of the medical community that is often overlooked: abortion doctors.
They provide a much needed service to women: the termination of a pregnancy. I make no secret of my support for easy and legal abortion access for all women-no restrictions. My support for this is due to my belief that women are human beings with the right to bodily autonomy that every human being has. This right underlies our right to self-defense and our right to be free from being enslaved. There is no exception to this right. It is universal and applicable to all human persons (a fetus is not a human person ((it is a biological human being, which is different than a human person)). Where is the capacity for pain in fetus? Self-awareness? Cognition? Where is the possession of rights and duties, or an awareness of the passage of time? Where are these qualities present in a fetus? Are they all present at the same time?). Even if fetuses were considered people, with all the rights of other human persons, there are a host of complications that would entail:
Giving a fetus the status of person could lead to many more legal issues and complications than most people realize. “Further, a prenatal personhood measure might subject a woman who suffers a pregnancy-related complication or a miscarriage to criminal investigations and possibly jail time for homicide, manslaughter or reckless endangerment. And because so many laws use the terms “persons” or “people,” a prenatal personhood measure could affect large numbers of a state’s laws, changing the application of thousands of laws and resulting in unforeseeable, unintended, and absurd consequences.”
Of course the right to bodily autonomy means that no human being can force another human being to use their body against their wishes. As a result, even if a fetus were a human person, with all the attendant rights, they still would not have the right to use the body of a woman against her wishes. If she wants to be pregnant, it’s her body and her choice. If she wants to be not pregnant, it’s her body and her choice. The fetus does not get a say, whether it is a human person or not.
Sadly, in the United States, there are many barriers to abortion access. Nationwide, the cost for the abortion pill ranges from $300 – $800. In other areas, great distances much be traveled to obtain an abortion, which requires more money, as well as time off from work. 89% of counties in the US lack an abortion provider. Insurance bans, biased counseling, waiting periods, invasive and unnecessary ultrasound requirements, and parental consent requirements in many states create barriers to abortion for many women, especially those who are socially and economically disadvantaged.
Mississippi was dangerously close to losing its last remaining abortion provider: the Pink House.
In the latest battle of the long war to shut the clinic down, itself just a part of the recent national push to use state regulations to choke off the right to abortion, they finally won one. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled in their favor, leaving the clinic open for the indefinite future.
This decision allows the Pink House to remain open (what will become of the unnecessary ‘admitting privilege’ legislation is uncertain). That’s a good thing. Women need access to abortion if they are going to have the full range of reproductive options available to them.
In a recent Esquire article, it is made apparent that Dr. Willie Parker understand this. He understands the necessity of abortion providers. He is acutely aware of the problems faced by women in obtaining an abortion. He is also very aware of the opposition, and the lengths that some people will go to prevent women from obtaining an abortion.
When Parker was ten, his mother moved from the house with no electricity and plumbing into his grandfather’s place. To get to that neighborhood, you drive past a gravel plant. Here, the world is coated with gray dust. Parker’s youngest brother points out the sights: “They call that the lie tree, because everybody set up under that tree and drink and tell lies.”
Their grandfather’s house is simple, square, made of weathered boards that were never painted. The house that didn’t have plumbing is a few streets over, abandoned now, a lone shoe left behind on the porch.
One street over is an area they called the “White Quarter.” Its backyards adjoined the Parker yard, but the blacks were never supposed to cross the line, much less drive down the white street. Naturally, the boys took this as a challenge. “It was a thrill to get on your bike and go down that hill. Three or four of us would get at the top and yell Go! and we just shoot down the road. Next thing you know, the dogs all come out running at you—or somebody shoot at you.”
When he went off to college, Parker was still wearing a Jesus pin in his lapel every day and devoted his Saturday mornings to knocking on dorm-room doors to spread the Word. But that was the fall of 1981, when Reagan was funding the contras in Nicaragua and apartheid in South Africa was making the news, and his professors threw out one moral challenge after another. “Now it’s not just about Jesus gets you to heaven and you live fine with pie in the sky by and by but what is your role as a Christian in the modern world?”
One professor even asked him to write a paper on abortion. His answer was rooted in “Thou shalt not kill,” but he was already reluctant to judge. “My hope was that women would approach the question prayerfully,” he remembers.
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. “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.” He gave up obstetrics to become a full-time abortionist on the day, five years ago, that George Tiller was murdered in church.
I think he’s a hero because he’s doing the right thing for the right reasons. He does so knowing full well that his life is under greater scrutiny as well as heightened danger from being an abortion doctor. He is one of two abortion doctors who travel to Mississippi to perform that service:
This is because no doctor in Mississippi is willing to provide such a service. Although the state already has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, including a twenty-four-hour waiting period, parental consent, face-to-face counseling with the physician, and a ban on the use of Medicaid funding (except in extraordinary cases), it is going all out to close this clinic, the last abortion provider in Mississippi, known as the Pink House because the defiant woman who owns it painted it pink to make it stand out, bold and unashamed. The latest fight is over whether abortion doctors should be required to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital in the event of a complication, an irrelevant requirement since a hospital’s emergency-room staff usually does the admitting. It’s a practice no other specialty is required to observe. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists opposes the state law that makes this a requirement. But a similar law may soon leave the state of Texas—home to twenty-seven million people—with just six abortion clinics. It is already law in North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah and looms over Alabama, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Louisiana and is likely to spread to other states, pressed by a nationwide conservative movement that uses regulation to force a result democratic votes cannot achieve. So Parker flies down from his home in Chicago for several days twice a month to perform the service so few other doctors are willing to provide.
Twice a month may not sound like a lot, but as the article above points out, Dr. Parker sometimes performs up to 45 abortions per day. That’s 45 women having a procedure they’ve deemed necessary. That’s 45 women that are able to make decisions about the ir reproductive health with the full range of options available. That’s freedom for women, and I Dr. Parker should be recognized for his heroic actions.
*The article is quite long, and I’ve had difficulty finding notable segments to quote. I suggest reading it in full. It is very much worth it.