Willie J. Parker, an obstetrician based in Washington, D.C., didn’t always perform abortions. He’s a Christian from Birmingham, Ala., who initially refused to even consider the procedure.
But about halfway into his 20-year career, he changed his mind. Now, he’s one of those rare doctors who is willing to push the limits and provide abortions at 24 weeks of pregnancy. That places him among only about 11 percent of all abortion providers who will do the procedure that late in the second trimester.
Some people are determined to stop him. Congress is considering a ban on all abortions after 20 weeks in the district, which would affect Parker directly. Six other states already have one, passed within the last two years. A record number of new restrictions on abortions were enacted last year, including bans, waiting periods and limiting insurance coverage.
A small percentage of women have abortions beyond 13 weeks. But it troubles Parker that abortion supporters and opponents are increasingly willing to bargain about second-trimester abortions in the interest of finding common ground. While this may create a more civil discourse, he says, in the end, it’s dangerous to the health interests of women.
It’s the individual stories of the women who came to him that made him see things that way, he says. He now views the abortion debate through the prism of their particular realities.
Ironically, it’s the lack of access to abortion care that often pushes women to have abortions later in pregnancy, Parker says. He spoke to Star-Ledger editorial writer Julie O’Connor about why he performs them.
Q. Why did you change your outlook on abortion?
A. I wrestled with the morality of it. I grew up in the South and in fundamentalist Protestantism, I was taught that abortion is wrong.
Yet as I pursued my career as an OB/GYN, I saw the dilemmas that women found themselves in. And I could no longer weigh the life of a pre-viable or lethally flawed fetus equally with the life of the woman sitting before me.
In listening to a sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King, I came to a deeper understanding of my spirituality, which places a higher value on compassion. King said what made the good Samaritan “good” is that instead of focusing on would happen to him by stopping to help the traveler, he was more concerned about what would happen to the traveler if he didn’t stop to help.
I became more concerned about what would happen to these women if I, as an obstetrician, did not help them.
Q. You say women in their second trimester often have the most compelling need for an abortion. Why?
A. They lack access to health care or don’t have an understanding of their body changes, and often figure out later that they’re pregnant. Or they find out early enough that they’re pregnant, but their lack of access to health care or volatile, dysfunctional relationships delay seeking help.
The women most likely to be in those situations are trapped in poverty, often women of color or poor socioeconomic backgrounds, less education, and women and girls at the extremes of reproductive age. Women beyond the age where they think they can become pregnant, or young girls who have infrequent and irregular sexual activity and aren’t conscious of it.
Starting with those women as the ones you’d cut off is kind of ironic, because they have the most compelling reasons to consider abortion in the first place.
Click here to read more.