UN­LIKELY DIS­CI­PLE OF ABOR­TION:

Bitch: A Feminist Response to Pop Culture - - DEPARTMENT OF EVERYTHING - —DAHLIA GROSS­MAN-HEINZE

Dr. Wil­lie Parker is an itin­er­ant abor­tion provider who gave up a pri­vate prac­tice and a pent­house in Hawaii to pro­vide safe abor­tions for women in the South in com­mu­ni­ties like the ones in which he grew up. His work was cap­tured in the 2016 doc­u­men­tary film Trapped and in his book, Life’s Work: A Moral Ar­gu­ment for Choice. Parker is mount­ing the moral case for abor­tion rights and fight­ing to keep abor­tion clin­ics open. Bitch spoke with Dr. Parker about het­eronor­ma­tive pa­tri­ar­chal Chris­tian tra­di­tions, pol­i­tics, and his per­sonal saints. “De­vo­tion” is a word I couldn’t get out of my head while read­ing your book, es­pe­cially when you de­scribed your work as “sa­cred.” How do you see “the sa­cred” and the idea of de­vo­tion in your work?

To de­scribe my work as sa­cred is to place re­pro­duc­tion in the con­text of the re­li­gious and the spir­i­tual, where it’s long been, in re­jec­tion of pa­tri­ar­chal norms that would sub­or­di­nate the value and the lives and the im­por­tance of women. And I’m de­voted to rit­u­al­is­tic prac­tice com­ing from a place of deep com­mit­ment. Part of my push­ing back on pa­tri­archy and the im­per­il­ment of women by re­li­gious tra­di­tions is to in­voke the same lan­guage, but to im­bue it with the con­tent that would el­e­vate women to the same sta­tus that men take for granted. My work is sa­cred be­cause I don’t do my work de­spite my re­li­gious and spir­i­tual un­der­stand­ing, I do it be­cause of it, and that to me is the crux of the counter-nar­ra­tive to this re­li­gious en­croach­ment on the hu­man­ity of women. My work is sa­cred, I’m Chris­tian, I do abor­tions, and there are no zero-sum re­la­tion­ships be­tween those un­der­stand­ings or those ter­mi­nolo­gies.

What do you make of the an­nounce­ment that the Demo­cratic Party won’t with­hold fi­nan­cial sup­port from can­di­dates who op­pose abor­tion?

If we use the anal­ogy of a ship in the sea of pol­i­tics, we have to ask: Are women’s re­pro­duc­tive rights and free­dom an es­sen­tial plank in the hull of the Demo­cratic ship, or is it a mast on a speed­boat? As a mast on a speed­boat, it’s present, but it’s not crit­i­cal be­cause you have other means of mov­ing the boat. If the party is equiv­o­cat­ing on this is­sue, it is say­ing to women that they are op­tional. One thing I learned in re­la­tion­ships, both per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal, is that you can’t af­ford to make some­one a pri­or­ity who makes you op­tional. The Demo­cratic Party, by this move, would be mak­ing women and their re­pro­duc­tive lives and health op­tional.

You grew up in Alabama, and you now move be­tween Alabama and Ge­or­gia as an itin­er­ant abor­tion provider. What does it mean to you to care for women in com­mu­ni­ties like the ones in which you grew up?

The peo­ple who are be­ing de­nied [abor­tion] ac­cess are pri­mar­ily poor women and women of color, and I know that lived ex­pe­ri­ence per­son­ally—be­ing reared in ab­ject poverty and be­ing a per­son of color. So it be­came im­por­tant to pri­or­i­tize the care of the most vul­ner­a­ble women in this coun­try, us­ing the logic that if those women are okay, ev­ery­body else is go­ing to be al­right. It’s about mak­ing sure that those women aren’t left out, and the way to do that was to move home and to pro­vide care in one of the most un­der­served re­gions in the coun­try.

In your book you men­tion your “per­sonal saints”: civil rights lead­ers and oth­ers who have in­flu­enced your work and phi­los­o­phy. What in­spi­ra­tion do you draw from their work, and how do you see its con­nec­tion to yours?

When I look at these very hu­man peo­ple who found some­thing that was larger than them, some­thing that mat­tered, some­thing that made what­ever ef­forts they ex­pended a wor­thy cause, I took heart and no­tion from that.

I know that some peo­ple choose the is­sue, but some­times the is­sue chooses you. Be­ing a women’s health provider, hav­ing my lived ex­pe­ri­ence in the South with poverty and racism and then hav­ing one of the ma­jor defin­ing is­sues of hu­man rights be the re­pro­duc­tive rights of women, it was just the con­flu­ence of my back­ground, my val­ues, my re­li­gious and spir­i­tual val­ues rooted in Chris­tian­ity and com­pas­sion that pulled all of that to­gether for me. I saw peo­ple like Dr. King and Mal­colm X, who were deeply prin­ci­pled on the ba­sis of their re­li­gious un­der­stand­ing, and it fu­eled their

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