Sunday, April 28, 2019

Life's Work: A Moral Argument for Choice


Rating: 5 Stars

Wow. What a book.

I could not put this book down. I read it in a matter of a few hours and was constantly stopping to take notes. For so long I have had to try to explain how it is possible to be both pro-choice and a Christian, and here I can finally explain so articulately, because Dr. Parker has done so.

Dr. Parker did not come to his decision to become an abortion provider over night. It was a long process of evolving for him, into understanding that there is a moral argument to be made for providing women of all ages, races, social classes, religions, and so on a safe space in which they can receive the service of a doctor like Parker - services which are 100% LEGAL in the US. And the shameful state laws being passed, slowly but surely chipping away at Roe v. Wade are trying to ensure that even if abortion is legal, the poorest of the poor and the already-disenfranchised will have no way to access a safe and legal procedure they may desperately need.

The narrative here is thought-provoking, compelling, and helped me understand even better my position on the issue of abortion. I am pro-choice. Always have been, always will be. I can even recall an incident in 4th grade where a boy named Eric and I got into an argument one day during class - we were arguing about abortion, of all things for 4th graders to be arguing about. Looking back, I feel sorry for Ms. LeMay, who must have wondered what she had done wrong in order for this to debate to rage in her classroom. I clearly remember stomping into my aunt and uncle's house after school (Mom worked until 5) and shouting about how this boy said that abortion was murdering babies, and how could anyone even think that because a fetus and a baby were not the same thing?! Deep thoughts for a 4th grader, eh? I still feel as strongly about the issue now as I did then. Women must have, and deserve, to have autonomy over their own bodies.

This is our right.

You will not take it away.

It is our right to decide to have children, or not. To decide when is the right time to become a mother, and when it is not. For some, there is never a right time, and that is okay. Whether or not to have an abortion is not a decision any woman comes to lightly. I can promise you, no pregnant woman wakes up one morning and proclaims, "What a lovely day, think I'll go 'round to the clinic for an abortion after lunch."

Literally, none.

Yet this 100% LEGAL MEDICAL PROCEDURE is so heavily stigmatized, and even women who know they made the right decision for themselves by choosing to terminate a pregnancy, are made to feel ashamed, as though anyone else has the right to judge their life and the things they've been through that brought them to that choice.

As you might surmise, this is a topic I am incredibly passionate about. I will fight tooth and nail until the end of time and do whatever I can to ensure that access to safe and legal abortions are always an option for women. But for a long while now, as I found my way back to my faith after Eleanor was born nearly six years ago, I have had to wrestle with this question, of how I reconcile my belief in a woman's right to control her own body, with being a follower of Christ. Turns out, it is not as difficult as I thought it would be, given the daily barrage of right-leaning politicians who profess that their Christian faith demands they put an end to abortion immediately.

Dr. Parker's word spoke to me in a way that had be constantly wanting to shout, "Exactly!" as I read. He was able to, as a born-again Christian who has since found that Quakerism within the last decade or so, say everything I regularly want to say and articulate these thoughts in a meaningful way that invites people to meet one another where they are at, without judgment, and understand that we each have our own story and path to follow. He firmly believes that the services he provides is something he does in order to care for the women in his many communities - unfortunately due to so many frivolous laws being passed particularly in the Deep South, he travels weekly to several states, including Mississippi where there is exactly one clinic that provides abortion services.

There are so many great passages in the text and even as I type this, I am contemplating if I will just share them and say, "See here, this is important" and be done with it. Or if I will go into detail and make this review even longeeeeerrrrrrrr. Seriously, I had so many notes it was kind of ridiculous. Even so, his words are important and the way in which he came to these beliefs, as a Christian, are so crucial to understanding how one can both BE a Christian and support a woman's right to choose.

Dr. Parker addresses the issues head-on of what he perceives to be one of the unspoken, underlying reasons that some right-leaning politicians are so in favor of ending Roe v. Wade. He does not shy away from the racial implications, particularly when talking about those who use the platform of abortion to claim it is a form of black genocide (a tactic that angers him greatly).

"The truth, I am convinced, is that the people behind the black genocide movement, like Priests for Life and Life Dynamics, do not care about black babies and black women. These are often the same people who want to do away with public housing, I want support state-sponsored child care. Theirs is a feigned concern. they are using women of color as pawns in a much bigger game...Their goal…Is not, actually to curtail abortion services for poor women and women of color. It's to limit access to abortion for all women, including, and especially, white women because the thing all too many white anti-abortion activist really want, which they can't say out loud, is for white women to have more babies, in order to push back against the browning of America..As we march toward the reality that, by 2050, no one racial or ethnic group will hold a proportional majority in this country, racial suicide paranoia bounds. And for the white racist legislators in the red states, nothing is more threatening than a majority-brown country; it strips them of their historic power... (page 164)"

Dr. Parker goes on to add...

"The white people who are still in charge believe that if their women don't start having lots of babies, they - the white patriarchs - are going to become obsolete.

100 years ago, a white politician with the same fear who looked to exert control over female fertility would just say so...Theodore Roosevelt encouraged white women to do their duty and have at least two children, or else contemplate "race suicide." In these times, such a bold articulation of racist values is impossible. Too many of their own women are working and going to school, running businesses. running for political office, and taking birth control pills: any outward pressure on daughters or sisters or wives to have more children would be risable..And so the white men in charge have invented a work-around. They've tied their antipathy toward abortion together with civil rights and the Black Lives Matter movement. They understand that by curtailing abortion for black women they curtail it for white women, too. It's a slight of hand, a misdirection. The way I see it, the attack on abortion rights is nothing less than an effort to put all women back in their place" (page 165).

I don't believe he is wrong about much of this. Controlling women's bodies is ultimately what the anti-abortion movement is about. They certainly do not have the right to call themselves pro-life. Pro-birth, yes. Pro-life, hell no.

I also appreciated Dr. Parker's explanation of his personal beliefs and his professional choices. I feel like this is extremely important, because were he to not do this, it would be easy for someone to try to make a point that he performs abortions with as little regard for the procedure as the woman supposedly using abortions as a method of birth control. (Seriously, do not even get me started on people who actually think this is a thing. An abortion is an invasive and physically uncomfortable/painful procedure. Not at all something that is done without thought.) I especially appreciated his thoughts on how he proceeds if he thinks a woman is there against her will. The world needs so many more providers like Dr. Parker, who truly cares about each woman he treats, and makes sure he is doing his absolute right by each and every one who seeks out his services.

"In keeping with my commitment to abide by the law, I also comply with every TRAP regulation, no matter how unjust or discriminatory I believe it to be. I do this because it's more important to me to provide abortions than to not provide them, and because I understand that my reputation for being an excellent provider of 'safe and legal' abortion is all I have; the minute I resort to guerrilla tactics, I have given away the higher ground" (page 194).


"In my work, I abide by the consensus, established by Roe and by medical science, around "viability." According to Roe, the state has a compelling interest to protect the life of a fetus only when it reaches the point where can survive outside the womb with the aid of medical technology. I will not terminate a pregnancy beyond 25 weeks. For a million reasons, this boundary makes sense to me. For one thing, although abortion is very safe, it gets riskier as the gestational age of the fetus increases. I don't feel comfortable assuming that risk-especially if a woman's only rationale for wanting to terminate is her personal preference. I won't do it. If you're 28 weeks and you just don't want to be pregnant, or you just don't want to give birth-that's not an appropriate use of my skills" (page 194).


"I also refuse to perform abortions on women who I believe are being coerced. So many factors play into a woman's decision that this can be hard to discern. Every kind of woman winds up on my table, and I don't interrogate the circumstances of their life, because personal details are outside my purview… But at the same time, I do everything I can to explore what for me the central question, which has two parts. First: Have you made this decision yourself? And second: are you resolved about it? A woman is entitled to her own regret, as well as her own inner conflict and moral ambivalence. But I will not do an abortion if I sense that it is not her own desire" (page 195).


"When a woman tells me that her boyfriend has threatened to kill her or beat her if she does not terminate, I will refuse to perform her abortion. I have no reason to disbelieve you, I will say. But this is a legal problem, and I am a doctor, not a lawyer and not a police officer. We will help you get into a shelter. We will help you get a restraining order against your boyfriend. If, after you get yourself away from your boyfriend, you find that terminating the pregnancy is something that you want to do, well then, I am here next Wednesday through Friday and the clinic opens at seven in the morning" (page 198).


"I am sure of what my job is and what it isn't. I do not perform abortions on women who do not want them. If a mother is threatening to withhold support, or love, or shelter from her pregnant daughter, I will make sure the girl understands what that means for her. It's good for you to know now that if you want to carry this pregnancy forward, you won't have your mother's support. If you want to have this baby, we can figure out ways to get you help. We can help you find a place to live. But it's good for you to know early on that you're on your own. By framing the girl's reality in these terms, she may see her situation differently. She may consider, realistically, how it will be to raise a child on her own as a teenager and she may come to a different decision. Or she may not" (page 199).

Dr. Parker briefly touched on religious groups who support reproductive rights and I found this extremely helpful. It is kind of embarrassing that, at age thirty-six, I did not realize groups like that existed, because I guess I just assumed they didn't. But here he talks about groups that he refers to as "brave and righteous leaders for reproductive rights" who "have been so widely ignored, for decades by the public and press" (page 208). I've spent much of my time since finishing this book seeking out information about said groups, with utter fascination, really.

Dr. Parker's professional choices are not without risks, as he also points out more than once. He refers to the day a fellow provider, Dr. George Tiller, was murdered in his own church as he served that Sunday morning as an usher, and how difficult that was. But on the other hand, Dr. Parker is also quick to point out that while some providers (particularly in the Deep South) go to the lengths of wearing disguises to conceal their identities as they enter the various clinics they work at, that he himself is one of the best disguises of all. While not dismissing the risks entirely, he says, "My best protection is my every day self. I can walk around in plan sight because no one on earth expects a large, bald, black man in sweats and a baseball cap to be a doctor, let alone one of the last abortion doctors in the south" (page 129).

Dr. Parker's sentiments on the current and future laws regulating abortions and providers who can perform this service are crucial. As touched on above, while Roe v. Wade is still the federal law of the land, bit by bit so many states have passed laws that are making it more and more difficult for clinics that provide abortions to remain open. He cites specifics such as mandating that these clinics have hallways wide enough to maneuver a gurney through (despite the fact that clinics have no need for using gurneys), and other requirements that are so obviously meant to cost the clinics so much money in renovations that they simply can not comply, and end up closing as a result of being out of compliance with new and increasingly over-the-top mandates. Another major obstacle revolves around the admitting privileges of doctors who provide abortions. Some states are now requiring a doctor preforming abortions to have admitting privileges at  a hospital in the area. Dr. Parker points out how this, too, is meant to curtail the doctors' abilities to serve patients who need them; many hospitals are unlikely to grant such privileges for a number of reasons and once more we see clinics closing in the areas that often need them most. And also in many cases, even if a clinic is able to comply with all of these demands, it can often be just as difficult for a woman needing an abortion to even get there in the first place.

"Increasingly, limited or no access to abortion is a reality. 89% of US counties have no abortion provider at all; nearly 40% of American women of reproductive age live in these counties. This means on average, a woman has to drive 30 miles to a clinic, more than 50 if she lives in a rural area-and more if she seeks an abortion after 20 weeks" (page 180).

This is not okay. There are a myriad of reasons why a woman might seek an abortion, and not a single one of those reasons is anyone's damn business except the woman making the decision. So when lawmakers very obviously go out of their way to throw up as many obstacles as possible in a woman's path, they are choosing to ignore the pesky little part of the law that says ABORTION IS LEGAL IN ALL FIFTY STATES. Women must band together and fight for our rights of body autonomy, no matter what walk of life we come from, another point that Dr. Parker makes: "When it comes to protecting the right to safe and legal abortion, all women are sisters. A legal threat to abortion access for a poor, African-American woman is a legal threat to a white woman, too. A state wide ban on 20-week abortions affects every woman, no matter what her income or where her kids go to school. It might be easy to look away from the plights of women like those who come to the clinics where I work but if lawmakers succeed in stripping away the rights of poor women to obtain abortions, they will also be quietly but inexorably stripping away all women's rights. Solidarity is the best defense...I have seen the solidarity at work, especially in recovery rooms. After abortions, women are frequently volatile, awash with relief or tearful at the end of a long inner journey. Frequently I have seen two women, virtual strangers, black and white, holding hands across their bed rails, one woman in the midst of her emotional turbulence and the other one helping her through it" (page 182).

There are still so many more passages I feel are hugely important and want to share, but I am also finding that this review has become wildly out of control. I realize that many I quoted were long, but I do sincerely hope that at least one thing here has given you pause to think about your own opinion and perspective. Here I will take my leave, dropping these last couple morsels for you to mull over, as I have done repeatedly since finishing this hugely important text:

"Talking openly about abortion should be something that happens in church, and not suppressed by religious authorities in the interest of preserving their own power. Women should find healing and understanding in church, not stigma and shame" (page 210).

"As a Christian, I feel that it's my job to help offer a counternarrative: that God gave every woman gifts and the agency to realize those gifts, and that nothing about choosing to terminate a pregnancy or to delay childbearing puts a woman outside of God's love" (page 69).

"The earth spun, and with it, this question turned on its head. It became not: is it right for me, as a Christian, to perform abortions? But rather: is it right for me, as a Christian, to refuse to do them?" (page 36).

"The procedure room in an abortion clinic is a sacred as any other space to me, because that's where I am privileged to honor your choice. In this moment, where you need something that I am trained to give you, God is meeting both of us where we are" (page 212).

Highly highly recommended.


  1. That's one HECK of a review!!! I'm getting the distinct impression you liked it!

    1. I thought it would be a short review, but once I got started I found I could not stop. It really truly spoke so plainly everything I have been trying to say for myself all these years but could not really explain it as well. It was a really deep read, but also quick because I could not put it down.

  2. This is a wonderful review of what sounds to be a very important book.
    Personally I am in favour of access to abortion under pretty much the same conditions as Dr Parker outlines above. What I often struggle with is the people who are vocally against abortion under any circumstance (British as well as American) tend to be the same people who have no compassion for children either. In the UK community resources for childcare are being closed at a ridiculous rate leaving only expensive private nurseries and creches, yet the same heartless politicians who are refusing to fund childcare (yes, JRM, we're looking at you) are also the ones who want to ban abortion on 'religious grounds'. Theier every action demonstrates that they have no sense of Christianity or Christian behaviour, yet they think they can use religion when it suits them. As an atheist I get spitting mad about this. I can only imagine how galling it must be to have your beliefs usurped for political purposes.

    OK, I got a tad ranty. Taking deep breaths now!

    1. What you have described is exactly what infuriates me from the "religious right". There is no such thing as pro-life in the US, no matter what they claim. They are pro-birth and that is all. Once the babies are born, it seems those lives do matter, because programs that would support keeping these babies and families healthy and together are on the chopping block if GOP lawmakers have their ways. There is zero compassion for families who are working-poor, homeless, you name it. Once the fetuses become babies, they're on their own. it is sickening.

      Breeeeeeeathe. I have to tell myself that a lot!

  3. I am glad to know that such a book exists!

    1. Me too. I never thought I would find a book like this, and felt like I was an anomaly. But at last, I am not!


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