DR. WIL­LIE PARKER’S SA­CRED WORK

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no­tion that their re­li­gious val­ues ob­li­gated them to par­tic­i­pate in the hu­man-rights is­sues of their day. I chan­nel and de­rive my drive and clar­ity to do the work that I do from mak­ing those ob­ser­va­tions about why and how they did the work that they did.

I was re­ally struck by how you phrased this in Life’s Work—why did you make the de­ci­sion to ex­er­cise Chris­tian com­pas­sion not by proxy, but with your own hands as an abor­tion provider?

In my sit­u­a­tion, it wasn’t enough to be em­pa­thetic or sym­pa­thetic to­ward the fact that women need abor­tion care. As a women’s health­care provider, it felt like a com­pro­mise to un­der­stand the im­por­tance of that care to women and to fail to pro­vide it if the only rea­son that I wasn’t pro­vid­ing it was the de­fault to pa­tri­ar­chal cus­toms that are rooted in Chris­tian­ity, be­cause if I looked deeply in my faith tradition, there was noth­ing morally or mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive about be­ing an abor­tion provider and a Chris­tian.

For me per­son­ally, it wasn’t enough just to be pro–re­pro­duc­tive rights in rhetoric or in pol­i­tics. The ful­fill­ment of what moved me was to ac­quire the skills to be­come pro–re­pro­duc­tive rights in ac­tion. The only so­lu­tion [that would] quiet the stir­ring in my in­ner wit­ness was to be­gin pro­vid­ing abor­tion care for women be­cause I know what it means when it’s not present.

You make the point that pro-choice ad­vo­cates have failed to give a moral or eth­i­cal case for abor­tion rights and in­stead ceded that ground to anti-choicers. How do you think pro-choice ad­vo­cates can bet­ter make the case for abor­tion rights?

We have been reared with the cul­tural nar­ra­tive that Amer­ica is one na­tion un­der God, so while we have an of­fi­cial sep­a­ra­tion be­tween church and state and don’t have a na­tional re­li­gion, we do. It is a de facto het­eronor­ma­tive, pa­tri­ar­chal, Euro­cen­tric un­der­stand­ing of Chris­tian­ity and that has led to the ex­clu­sion of many peo­ple who don’t fit that nar­ra­tive.

There’s no need for peo­ple who don’t have a re­li­gious prac­tice to con­cede that the only way to ad­dress is­sues of moral­ity is through re­li­gion, be­cause when we’ve done that, we’ve cre­ated a huge vac­uum in the pub­lic space that has ceded the moral high ground to peo­ple who have cyn­i­cally ma­nip­u­lated re­li­gious un­der­stand­ings for the in­jus­tices that we face, such as lgbtq dis­crim­i­na­tion, frank racism, ram­pant sex­ism and pa­tri­archy, and anti-im­mi­grant sen­ti­ments. The ma­jor con­ces­sion that has been made by peo­ple who are pro–re­pro­duc­tive rights is that they have failed to mount the moral ar­gu­ment for re­pro­duc­tive rights. We are al­ready en­gaged in ques­tions of moral­ity; they’re just not re­li­gious, es­pe­cially when you’re talk­ing about justice. We should not con­cede the moral case for the justice work that we pur­sue. Anti-choicers seem to ef­fec­tively ar­gue for the po­ten­tial each pos­si­ble preg­nancy holds, but how is it that they have so suc­cess­fully re­moved the woman, and her po­ten­tial and hu­man­ity, from the equa­tion al­to­gether? And how can pro-choice ad­vo­cates reori­ent this is­sue to pri­or­i­tize the woman?

By cre­at­ing the no­tion that fe­tuses are tiny peo­ple and then in­vok­ing an ab­so­lute in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the dis­rup­tion of life pro­cesses as mur­der, the anti-choicers have been able to short-cir­cuit any crit­i­cal and nu­anced think­ing about a process that’s oc­cur­ring in the body of a woman.

If we fetishize moth­er­hood and make it so es­sen­tial to the iden­ti­ties of women, then that means any woman who is re­ject­ing that no­tion and dis­rupt­ing that process is ei­ther morally un­fit or men­tally un­sta­ble. One of the ways that peo­ple who are sup­port­ive of re­pro­duc­tive rights can refuse to un­wit­tingly un­der­mine the interest of women who are try­ing to make that de­ci­sion is to re­ject the no­tion of the pri­macy of moth­er­hood to the iden­tity of all women. For ex­am­ple, women who are ma­te­ri­ally si­t­u­ated where it is not a ques­tion of eco­nom­ics or a strain or a com­plex fam­ily struc­ture, those women, when they be­come in­dif­fer­ent as to whether or not a woman has to wait 24 hours to carry out her re­pro­duc­tive life goals, they un­wit­tingly par­tic­i­pate in the co­er­cion or the vic­tim­iza­tion of women who are not sim­i­larly si­t­u­ated.

We have to be mind­ful of the priv­i­lege we hold and we have to ap­ply that fil­ter to our anal­y­sis of re­pro­duc­tive rights. If we’re mind­ful of the priv­i­lege that we hold when laws are posed that don’t nec­es­sar­ily af­fect our spe­cific po­si­tion, we have to be mind­ful that we stand in sol­i­dar­ity with peo­ple who will be af­fected by those laws. Peo­ple who are sup­port­ive of re­pro­duc­tive rights have to be un­equiv­o­cal in mak­ing it clear and ex­plicit that women’s bod­ies and lives are not pub­lic prop­erty.

This in­ter­view has been edited and con­densed. Read the full in­ter­view on­line at bitch­me­dia.org.

“I don’t do my work de­spite my re­li­gious and spir­i­tual un­der­stand­ing, I do it be­cause of it.”

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