DR. WILLIE PARKER’S SACRED WORK
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.”