In Life’s Work , an outspoken, Christian reproductive justice advocate and abortion provider (one of the few doctors to provide such services to women in Mississippi and Alabama) pulls from his personal and professional journeys as well as the scientific training he received as a doctor to reveal how he came to believe, unequivocally, that helping women in need, without judgment, is precisely the Christian thing to do.
Dr. Willie Parker grew up in the Deep South, lived in a Christian household, and converted to an even more fundamentalist form of Christianity as a young man. But upon reading an interpretation of the Good Samaritan in a sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he realized that in order to be a true Christian, he must show compassion for all women regardless of their needs. In 2009, he stopped practicing obstetrics to focus entirely on providing safe abortions for the women who need help the most—often women in poverty and women of color—and in the hot bed of the pro-choice debate: the South. He soon thereafter traded in his private practice and his penthouse apartment in Hawaii for the life of an itinerant abortion provider, focusing most recently on women in the Deep South.
In Life’s Work , Dr. Willie Parker tells a deeply personal and thought-provoking narrative that illuminates the complex societal, political, religious, and personal realities of abortion in the United States from the unique perspective of someone who performs them and defends the right to do so every day. He also looks at how a new wave of anti-abortion activism, aimed at making incremental changes in laws and regulations state by state, are slowly chipping away at the rights of women to control their own lives. In revealing his daily battle against mandatory waiting periods and bogus rules governing the width of hallways, Dr. Parker uncovers the growing number of strings attached to the right to choose and makes a powerful Christian case for championing reproductive rights.
I saw Dr. Parker on The Daily Show and was so grateful for his impassioned advocacy of women's rights to agency and choice. I look forward to reading this.
I've finished the book, and I long for EVERYONE to read this book. Dr. Parker, in a series of essays, tells us about who he is and what his faith has meant to him and how his faith impacted and even initiated his life-change to being an abortion provider. He discusses science and medicine behind abortion, the history of Christianity's involvement with it as a political issue, and presents, more than anything, a passionate defense of the humanity, complexity, and autonomy of women, particularly poor women and women of color, who are even more adversely impacted by restrictions placed on safe and legal abortion. He presents medical and scientific dismantling of common lies and propaganda spread about its various procedures, while also compassionately sharing his own story of growing in faith.
I implore everyone, regardless of where you fall ideologically, to read this book. Dr. Parker is giving his life, and risking it too, for all women, especially the most vulnerable.
Actually, 3.5 stars.....although I disagreed with some of the reasons why people (particularly white men) are pro-life, Dr. Parker gives a compelling argument for choice and I don't disagree with him. I read the book because Dr. Parker is a born again Christian (as am I) who is also an itinerant doctor performing abortions under the strict letter of the law in 3 southern states. In Mississippi, there is only one abortion clinic. I wanted to see why he did what he did, as simple as that. I just came away from the book feeling even more strongly that I was not going to judge individuals on their decisions, whether it be abortion, assisted suicide, refusal of medical treatment, religious convictions (or no religious convictions) or whatever affects their own personal physical or spiritual selves. As long as they are not breaking the law of the land, it is their decision to make. Whether or not I believe that life begins at conception is irrelevant to their lives. I am not walking in their shoes and I can't presume to decide what is best for them. We can't be hypocrites and pick WHEN we want less government in our lives or the lives of others. I think that maybe if people spent less time protesting this issue and more time seeing how we can prevent the issue (readily available free birth control) or help the children who are already living in a state of despair, neglect and abuse, we would be a far more "Christ like" society.
I knew I'd love this book when I read the description. Abortion is such a hot-button issue and people tend to feel very strongly about it. I'm no exception. I work in social services and see the devastating effects of what happens when women not emotionally capable of raising children are forced to have babies they don't want. I don't think someone can call themselves "pro-life" while turning a blind eye to the great financial and social needs of women having babies they aren't financially or emotionally ready for (i.e. subsidized daycare and medical care, food stamps, parenting classes, counseling, etc.)
*steps off soap box*
I'm so grateful for the intelligence, wisdom, and clarity in this book. Dr. Willie Parker, an abortion doctor, presents a compelling argument that the Christian response to the abortion debate is to be pro-choice. He cites scripture and talks about his spiritual journey that led him to this work. He goes into the danger he faces doing the work he does and about the stigma of abortion. I spent most of the time I read this book nodding my head. Whether you're staunchly pro-choice, anti-choice, or somewhere in between, everyone really should read this book.
It's not often I give a book a one star rating, but this book deserves it. I only have so many characters, so this is going to be an abridged review. You can find my full review on Amazon or on the Life Training Institute blog.
Life's Work: A Moral Argument for Choice by Dr. Willie Parker is a new book defending abortion rights by an African-American doctor who is a self-proclaimed "Christian" (the reason for the quotes around Christian will become evident below). For all the lip service Parker says about rationality and wanting to approach the issue rationally, I've rarely read a more irrational defense of abortion rights.
Doctor Parker is, having grown up a poor black kid with all the struggles that brings with it, adamant about protecting the rights of women by ensuring that they have the "right to abortion." Unfortunately, what Parker doesn't understand is that by dehumanizing the unborn, he is doing exactly what white people used to do to black slaves, dehumanizing them so that they can justify killing them because they're in the way of what bigger and stronger people want. He actually says, unironically, that "A fetus is not 'a person.' It is not, therefore, entitled to the rights of 'a person'" (p. 154). I bet Parker is glad white people aren't saying that about black people any longer.
This is going to be a fairly lengthy review. Parker has said a number of things that I should respond to. I'm going to split it up into four sections and show the various reasons his book is so irrationally argued: First, I'll show how he has contradicted himself in several places, even sometimes in the same paragraph. Then I'll respond to some of his pseudo-scientific arguments against the humanity of the fetus. After that, I'll respond to some of his pseudo-biblical arguments for abortion. Then finally I'll show why Parker is not a Christian in any meaningful sense, based on some of the statements he makes in his book.
A few preliminary notes. Parker's book commits a couple of critical errors. He has no table of contents in his book, and he doesn't source any of the information he uses. Absolutely none. He does occasionally allude to another source that might support something he is saying, but he doesn't actually source anything. As such, I can't look up his information to know whether or not he's telling the truth on any of it. Additionally, Parker has failed the ideological turing test. Badly. He tries to tell his abortion-choice readers what pro-lifers believe and think. He tries to put on an air of charitability, but in reality he doesn't know what he's talking about. Parker never responds to any of the scientific arguments pro-life people make. Instead, he continually insists the only reason pro-life people are opposing abortion is because they want to control womens' bodies (which is an all-too-common claim) and because they want white women to have as many babies as they can to continue being the dominant race in the United States (this is seriously an assertion he makes in his ninth chapter, titled "Black Genocide and the White Majority"). I guess black people and other minorities are invisible to Parker unless they worship at the altar of abortion rights.
Despite the subtitle to Parker's book, it's mainly an autobiography. He really presents no "moral argument" throughout the book other than "I grew up in a difficult situation, so I need to give women abortions to help them through their difficult situations." Other than that, he does present a few arguments from science and Scripture that I'll be getting into in their respective sections. The only other thing worth mentioning is that he claims certain people, like Martin Luther King, Jr., as his heroes and thinks of them in his fight for "abortion rights." Of course, he completely ignores the fact that King, a Baptist minister, opposed same-sex marriage and opposed abortion. But let's not let facts get in the way of polemics.
I'm not going to talk about literally everything in the book, but I'll hit most of the highlights.
One contradiction appears early on (p. 10). He says that [one of] the underlying assumptions behind these pro-life laws is that their doctors can't be trusted to tell them the truth, when in the paragraph immediately preceding that he fully admitted that he refuses to tell them simple things such as "abstinence is the surest way of birth control."
In chapter two, he describes a doctor he gives the pseudonym Dr. Sweet as a lovely person, having a "gentle, nonconfrontational demeanor." A couple of paragraphs later, he describes this sweet, nonconfrontational, lovely person as waging a war on abortion rights.
There are, of course, others. But one of the most glaring contradictions occurs on p. 195. Parker writes that he will not perform abortions after the point of viability, but since he doesn't believe morality is absolute, he will refer out for them. He tells of a mother who is seeking an abortion for her daughter, so Parker referred them to clinics in Colorado and New Mexico. Then he writes, "I did not tell them that the doctors in those places would probably not perform the procedure because, at twenty-eight weeks, patient preference -- or 'I messed up' -- is not a medical indication. It is not my role to block anyone from pursuing their interest or to withhold information." At this point I was asking myself if he even pays attention to himself. In the span of two sentences he says he doesn't withhold information from anyone right after informing us that he withheld information from a mother and daughter seeking an abortion.
Arguments from Science
Let's now talk about Parker's pseudo-scientific claims. Parker doesn't believe the fetus is equal to a baby or a child because it can't survive outside the uterus since it can't breathe, nor can it form anything like thoughts. Of course, he never justifies why these things are necessary to be equal to us older people; he just assumes it. The only reason the fetus can't breathe or form thoughts is because it is too young to do so. And of course, the fetus does breathe, it just breathes via the umbilical cord, not through its nose. It is still taking in oxygen. Then he says that despite what "the antis" say (his not-so-nice term for pro-life people), a fetus can't feel pain up until 29 completed gestational weeks. He says this is the scientific consensus, though he doesn't give any source to support his claim.
Chapter eight is where Parker really tries to offer a more extensive scientific case. He first starts off by stating that no one (not doctors, legislators, etc.) judges or shames cancer patients for their decisions, even if those decisions lead to death. This really shows Parker's inability to understand the other side, because of course there's a difference in performing an act that one foresees may be detrimental to him- or herself (such as refusing cancer treatment to remain lucid as long as possible, even though getting treatment may extend her life) and performing an act that results in the death of another human being (i.e. having an abortion).
Parker goes on to state that the political conversation around abortion has "obliterated truth and crushed any nuanced understanding of what it means to live a human life" (p. 143). By this he means that pro-life people are too black and white by arguing that human life begins at fertilization. Parker doesn't believe we can pinpoint when human life begins because "life is a process" (and of course, he completely ignores the fact that his own argument means that he can't even prove a human infant or the woman he gives the abortion to is alive, since he makes no attempt to tell us when human life begins).
Parker tries to put himself forth as an authority on when life begins, but as an astronomer is not an authority on evolution, nor is a biologist an authority on what the atmosphere of Mars is composed of, Parker is not an authority on whether or not embryos are human beings just because he has scientific training -- embryologists are, and they consistently agree, without significant controversy, that human life begins at fertilization. Parker's a pretty lousy doctor if he doesn't even know this basic biological fact. Of course, he dismisses the idea that "life begins at conception" as a "deeply held religious belief" and doesn't even attempt to interact with the scientific arguments pro-life people give for that view. He then appeals to Justice Blackmun's ruling in Roe v. Wade, though, of course, Blackmun's ruling was not scientific in nature -- it was philosophical (and bad philosophy, at that). I bet Parker would not accept as an argument for young-earth creationism that "scientists, philosophers, and theologians all disagree on the age of the earth, so neither should we take any particular stance on what the age of the earth is." But this is exactly the kind of reasoning Blackmun used in Roe, and Parker apparently finds it quite convincing.
Parker also repeats the myth that abortion was illegal in common law to protect the life and safety of women. This is a false narrative (though Parker doesn't seem very interested in refuting false narratives if they agree with his). As Joseph Dellapenna showed in his book Dispelling the Myths of Abortion History, abortion was illegal in common law to protect the life of the fetus, not to protect the health of the mother. A stark difference is that Dellapenna has provided many, many sources to support his claims, and Parker doesn't offer a single one to support his.
Parker then tries to argue that life is a continuous process -- the man and woman are alive, the sperm and ovum cells are alive, and the resulting zygote is alive. This is, of course, not new information, nor is it particularly interesting. Of course life is a continuous process. But there is a zero point at which the sperm and ovum cells cease to exist and a new, genetically distinct human organism arises in its place. This is the consensus among embryologists, even abortion-choice embryologists. Parker mistakenly thinks this shows that there's no point at which the "switch for life is flipped on," so to speak. But Parker is wrong. He even tells his readers on p. 181 of his book, "Life is a process. Your life is a process." Considering this is the main reason he denies human embryos and fetuses are alive, to be consistent he must not believe anyone reading his book is alive.
He next speaks of embryos that implant but fail to thrive, resulting in miscarriages. Aside from the fact that, again, he doesn't source his claim that as many as one in five embryos fail to thrive, he seems to indicate that an embryo's failing to thrive means that it isn't a "life." Of course, many infants fail to thrive, as well. Perhaps Parker would be okay with infanticide, since his scientific argument would also show that infants are not "lives" based on his ridiculous criteria.
Arguments from Scripture
Parker fancies himself as a modern day Apostle Paul (though he doesn't seem to accept Paul's admonition not to forsake the assembling together, as had become the habit of some). On page 15 of his book, Parker talks about the woman caught in adultery and how Jesus told the people who wanted to stone her "if any of you are without sin, go and cast the first stone." Of course, what he fails to mention is that Jesus also told her "go and sin no more." In other words, "leave your life of adultery." Parker's Jesus is a Jesus who does not judge the sins of man (boy is he in for a shock). Additionally, on page 69, Parker tells us he offers a counternarrative to the disapproval of Christianity: "...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." Of course, this "modern day Apostle Paul" also seems to have forgotten that Paul wrote, in Romans, "Shall we sin so that grace can abound? Certainly not!" Parker is no philosopher. He doesn't seem to understand that having the volition (the agency) to do something does not mean that we are justified in making any choice we make just because we have it.
Parker, himself, repeats the oft-asserted claim that Christianity is sexist. He claims that Christianity "threw Eve under the bus" (a slogan he repeats several times throughout the book), and while it's true Adam tried to blame Eve for his sin, what Parker conveniently leaves out is that Adam was punished for sinning, just like Eve was, and Jesus proclaimed that it would be through a woman that Christ would eventually conquer Satan. However, as David Marshall points out, Christianity does not oppress women; just the opposite. It has always been the great liberator of women (see his article here and the subsequent parts in this series for evidence for that claim). Just a couple of examples: it was Christians who discouraged female infanticide in the early Roman world. And let's not forget that it was Jesus, in the Scriptures, who opposed Jewish societal etiquette and talked to women (such as the Samaritan woman at the well).
Parker reinterprets Martin Luther King, Jr.'s sermon I've Been to the Mountaintop and his discussion of the Good Samaritan. This is not unique to Parker; abortion-choice philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson also abused the Good Samaritan tale to justify her stance on abortion rights. Parker sees himself as the "good Samaritan" in performing abortions on women he thinks are in need of them.
In chapter seven, Parker attempts to make a more detailed Biblical case for supporting abortion rights. He argues that the Bible does not contain the word "abortion" in it. Of course, this is just the old argument from silence fallacy. The Bible not expressly condemning it does not mean the Bible condones it. What we do have is one of the earliest Christian documents, The Didache, expressly forbidding both abortion and infanticide, so to claim that Christianity is consistent with support for abortion is historically and theologically confused. The Bible also says "you shall not murder" (Ex. 20:13, Deut. 5:17), that child sacrifice had never even entered God's mind to command (Jer. 19:5), and that Jesus had high regard for children (Matt. 18:6, Matt. 19:14). That God would support abortion to make our lives easier is a concept that is foreign to Scripture.
He refers to the passage in Exodus in which if two men are fighting and hit a pregnant woman, if her child dies the offender is to pay the husband a fine. He uses this to illustrate that the loss of the fetus was not a capital crime. I have responded to this passage elsewhere, but briefly, what is in mind here is not miscarriage, but premature birth. If the two men are fighting, the baby is born prematurely, and there is no further harm, the man must pay the husband a fine. But if there is loss of life (either the mother's or child's), then the offender was to be put to death.
Parker also alleges that throughout Jewish Scripture, a fetus becomes human only when its head emerges from the birth canal. Aside from not supporting his claim with any sources, this is absurd on the face of it. It may be different in other Jewish texts, but at least in the Torah, the same word for "child" is used to refer to either unborn or born children. The text makes no differentiation between children.
Parker is Not a Christian in any Meaningful Sense
Parker simply worships a god of his own creation. Throughout the book, he uses phrases such as "the god I worship", or "the god I believe in". This is likely because he doesn't believe there is any right interpretation of Scripture (p. 127) and that there is no such thing as absolute morality (p. 195). However, Parker's beliefs land him square outside of orthodoxy, meaning that he is not a Christian in any meaningful sense. Of course, this won't prevent people like Gloria Steinem and Cecile Richards from holding him up and saying, "see, you can be a Christian and pro-life." As Parker proves in his book based on his rejection of it, you can't be an orthodox Christian and pro-life.
On page 55 of his book, Parker writes the following: "God is love, and God does not judge; but God's people can become overly pious and haughty, and they can become inflexible." It is astounding that anyone who thinks himself a Christian can believe that God doesn't judge. Would you try to tell that to Ananias and Sapphira? To Tyre and Sidon? To Sodom and Gomorrah? To the Canaanites? To the Amalekites? The list goes on and on. Hebrews 9:27 states, "It is appointed for man to die once, and after this comes judgment." All over Scripture we're told that God will judge the quick and the dead. What Bible has Parker been reading? It's also worth noting that despite the fact Parker thinks God doesn't judge, and he condemns pro-life people as being "overly pious and haughty," Parker has no qualms with judging pro-life people ten ways to Sunday, going so far as to bear false witness against pro-life people (but maybe he doesn't think the Ten Commandments are very important, either).
He goes on to state that "I began to understand that I had to find a thinking person's religion or abandon God entirely," and by that he obviously means "I had to find a religion that wouldn't judge me for my immoral acts, even killing unborn children." Some of the most brilliant people who have ever lived have been Christians. There were a long line of physicians before Willie Parker who were followers of Jesus and treated all human life, even unborn human life, as if it is sacred.
I could go on and on, but this is enough to show how irrational Dr. Parker actually is in his defense of abortion rights and his performing abortions. This is really only the tip of the iceberg of what's wrong with Parker's book. On p. 29, he writes the following: "The living, breathing women who carried those fetuses in utero were cast as less than fully human -- either as criminals, on the one hand, or mentally incompetent on the other -- and thus not in possession of any rights at all." In this sentence, he seems to be stating that criminals and the mentally incompetent are less than human and not deserving of rights. This is barbaric. I hope he didn't mean what he actually wrote, which would just make him a sloppy communicator, not a barbaric person.
Unfortunately Doctor Parker is completely oblivious to the plight of the unborn throughout this book. The First-Wave Feminists understood that as women were treated as property, it was shameful for any woman to then treat her own child as property to be disposed of as she saw fit. Unfortunately Doctor Parker didn't get this memo, as despite how black people have been treated in our country, he is perfectly willing to dehumanize the unborn because they are in the way of something they want, be it not being pregnant, financial freedom, etc. He has the audacity to frame his fight for "abortion rights" in the language of civil rights, despite the fact that he kills innocent human children. His own lack of self-awareness is astonishing.
Doctor Parker's book is garbage. It is not worth reading, so save your money. The best defense of abortion in print is still David Boonin's A Defense of Abortion. Considering the poor level of critical thinking abortion-choice activists tend to be at, I don't see this changing any time soon.
I admit that I went into this book totally biased by my admiration of Dr. Parker and his work, so maybe on its own it's really a 4-star book. But it's amazing and he is a hero and everyone should read it, so 5. I really appreciated how much he opened up about his own faith journey and how he had a change of heart about his practice, but never looked back after the realization was made. He talks a lot about his admiration of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his desire to live his life in service to others, and how his idea of what service to others meant evolved. I wish I could persuade everyone I know who is anti-abortion and a self-proclaimed Christian to read this book, because it feels possible that Dr. Parker might be able to at least open some minds and help folks to see that the most Christian thing to do is let a woman be the owner of her own body and her own destiny.
Approximately one in three women in the United States will have an abortion in her lifetime. It could be your sister, your daughter, your wife. It could be you. Look at your female friends and know that even if they don't speak openly about it, one of them has likely terminated a pregnancy.
Abortion is legal in the U.S. With so many people wanting the service, clearly it's necessary, but it's not always easy to obtain one. With emotionally charged personhood legislation popping up in state governments all over the country, it's only getting harder.
Drawing on work from Martin Luther King Jr., scripture, science and his own upbringing in the deep South, Dr. Parker presents a strong case for why abortion is a moral, merciful and Christian (yes, Christian) act of compassion. Part memoir, part opinion piece, part scientific examination, this book was spectacularly well-structured. I highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend this book on audio, as the reader was stellar.
With Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice, Christian reproductive rights advocate and abortion service provider Dr. Willie Parker provides an insightful view of the relationship between faith and medical services. Early in the book, Parker notes, “Experience is what you do with what happens to you,” and he builds Life’s Work around his experiences as a “materially challenged” African American growing up in the South in the 1970s. By weaving together his own story with theory and practice, he helps dismantle the stereotypes that surround individuals in need of abortions and the practitioners who risk their lives to give these women access to them. The book begins with moments from Parker’s life and ultimately uses his autobiography to open up larger philosophical and political questions, all inflected with the perspective of a Christian. Two of the final chapters--”Preaching Truth” and “Black Genocide and the White Majority”--build strong theoretical arguments from his experiences that dismantle myths about abortion. Parker writes from a place without judgment, and his voice resonates with compassion that is far too often lacking in discussions of abortion.
I was already predisposed to like this book, as I think Dr. Parker is nothing short of heroic, but I was surprised to find in its final pages a version of religion that seems pretty wonderful, leaving me with hope that the book may not only change a few minds on abortion, but may even inspire some Christians to practice a better version of their faith. It's an accessible, quick read that provides plenty of scientific and experience-based information, and even though I am well-informed on reproductive rights issues, I still learned new things. Highly recommended to everyone - readers who don't come away agreeing with Dr. Parker on abortion will at least be informed opponents.
This is such a controversial issue in America that it is valuable to have a book by someone who is both a Christian and an abortion doctor, so he can talk about both sides and maybe shed some light instead of just making more noise.
It would have been nice to have a bibliography. That is not strictly necessary for a memoir or for a "moral argument" but a major part of the argument is the author's claimed reliance on scientific truth. The reader shouldn't have to take that on faith.
I was expecting to read a strong argument for the right of women to decide their futures, and I got that.
But Willie Parker does much more than that.
For me, his most surprising insight came from his assertion that the recent cultural trend to treat motherhood as sacred has helped to build the case against abortion rights.
He's right. Parenthood, particularly motherhood, has not always been the sacred calling that undergirds so many of mothers' conversations today. As Jennifer Senior writes in her book, "All Joy No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting," the concept of the "modern child" came into being within the last fifty years. Before the "modern child," children were utilitarian. They helped on farms and earned money for the family. The sentimentalization of children, especially babies, has been a recent change in our culture, fueled by lower fertility rates and the expanding middle class. Children have taken on the new role of manifesting the parent's self-actualization. The child is a romanticized representation of the parents' love story, each individual parent's hopes and dreams, etc..
But this is a new turn of events. For most of human history, children were never seen as the self-actualization of their parents. They were seen as necessary tools for surviving in a difficult world.
Parker drives the point home here:
"Mommy blogs conversations about 'having it all' and 'helicopter parenting'--all contribute to a cultural neurosis around motherhood that obscures what ought to be value-free choice. A cultish preference for motherhood is so embedded in culture that even well-meaning women reflexively judge one another for their reproductive choices. Now a "broad-minded" woman may be heard to disapprove out loud of her sister-in-law's abortion ("She could afford to have another baby!") or to privately judge her friend's decision not to have children as "selfish." The truth is that there is no intrinsic moral value to becoming a mother or not becoming one. A woman who pursues a pregnancy is merely prioritizing her life around motherhood. And a woman who has an abortion is prioritizing her life around not wanting to become a mother or around devoting herself and her resources to the children she already has. Homo sapiens will continue to reproduce and evolve, with or without any individual woman's participation in the process" (p. 179).
Parker delivers, what is to many women, hard truths. Becoming a mother shouldn't be considered a sacred calling that all women who become pregnant should embrace wholeheartedly. When we uphold mothers on pedestals and insist that being a mother is a higher calling than other ways that women live their lives, we contribute to a culture where women who choose abortion are viewed as "tragic" characters who always regret their decisions. As Parker notes in his book, some women indeed regret their abortions. But in his extensive experience as an abortion provider, the overwhelming majority of them are thankful for them and resolved in their decisions.
Parker finally puts into words some ideas that have been floating around in my mind, but I didn't know how to organize and articulate them.
His key message: Life is a process.
Life doesn't happen all at once, with the meeting of an egg and sperm. Life grows. Life develops. And unless we are one of the few people who die suddenly without warning, life also ends the same way. As a process. Not all at once.
For Parker, the "sanctity of life," is bunk.
For God is as present in an abortion as he is in a pregnancy. God is in life. And God is in death.
In his words, "You don't become sacred, like Mary, just because you conceived, and the termination of your pregnancy is not the resolution of an error. It is merely one of the reproductive outcomes. So is miscarriage... All of these are on a continuum and they all hold moral weight. The God part is in your agency. The trust--divine trust--is that you have an opportunity to participate in the population of the planet. And you have an opportunity not to participate. Is God vested one way or another in whether you, as an individual, become pregnant? No... The process is bigger than you are. The part of you that's like God is the part that makes a choice. That says, I choose to. Or, I choose not to. That's what's sacred. That the part of you that's like God to me" (p. 212).
The book itself is a little uneven. Parker uses the first few chapters to narrate how and why he shifted his personal attitudes and beliefs about abortion in light of his religious beliefs. I appreciated this section because I also went through a moral struggle about my attitudes toward abortion, but I can see how a reader who is coming to the book simply for the "moral argument for choice" might feel frustrated.
If this book finds the right reader, it can be a powerful argument in favor of abortion rights. Unfortunately, I don't see this book reaching strict conservative Christians who are looking for convincing counter evidence to their most fervent arguments. No, the best audience for this book is progressive Christians, especially those who strongly support efforts to address economic oppression and those who believe in a theology of grace.
Being an RN who has worked in labor & delivery, maternity, postpartum--I have been in the room when the arrival of an infant is joyous and when there are tears of worry and concern. How will I care for this child. How will I feed this child. Willie Parker talks his deep faith in God and his deep faith in his work--being a doctor who provides abortions for women in southern states where there is ONE clinic to service them. Parker reveals his life story from being raised in the South in a neighborhood with the telling name of Number 8--a group of unheated shacks. From there Parker worked his brain to excel in school, go to college and with the admiration of teachers and mentors continue on to become a physician. Currently he is on the forefront of the fight for reproductive rights and is chair of the board of Physicians for Reproductive Health. He is also the recipient of Planned Parenthood's Margaret Sanger Award. Parker left a cushy life in Hawaii to return to the South to help women. His book traces his life work, how he approaches each patient with gentle questioning and that he refuses to perform an abortion if there is any doubt from the patient or if the patient is being forced.
I am not religious, but I was really curious to read an argument for choice from a self-proclaimed born-again Christian -- and I'm very, very glad I did. This book is not only deeply moving, but well reasoned and informative (even if you think you have a pretty good understanding of how abortion works). Initially, I thought the pull quote on the front from Gloria Steinem - "I wish everyone in America would read this book" - seemed a little hyperbolic, but after reading it? I wholeheartedly agree.
Some parts of his argument were stronger than others, but in all, I felt this was a very informative read, and a solid indictment of how the church treats the poor and minority women. Also fascinating (which I have also seen corroborated elsewhere) is that abortion was not such a clear watermark as to who is an evangelical Christian and who is not until Reagan was campaigning.
No matter which side of the debate you stand on, this is a MUST read. This book holds a unique and honest perspective. It is thoughtfully written and will challenge you to evaluate your beliefs around this issue and their origins.
I strongly disagree with many of Dr. Parker’s views; namely, his views of abortion and his views of God.
The basis of his argument for abortion is that God is a God of love and not judgement, and we as Christians should therefore not “judge” women who find themselves in an abortion clinic. We are called to be compassionate and loving and to serve them without questioning their decision.
I agree with some of these claims: God is, without question, a God of love. Christians should also love others and be compassionate, as instructed by God in His Word. However, none of these facts prove that God does not judge sinners and that we should support abortion.
Frequently, in both the Old and the New Testaments, God is declared by His own authority to be the Judge of all. In the Old Testament, He judged by the law, often striking people dead for breaking His commandments. Is this unjust? No. He created us. Who are we to tell Him how to treat His creation? In the New Testament, God continued to judge many by the law, but He also judged His people, His elect, His church, His bride, by grace. Those whom He graciously extended salvation to are indeed judged, but not by their works — they are judged by the righteous blood and works of Christ, of God Himself. Meanwhile, those who were never called to faith are judged by the law. According to 2 Peter 3 (and numerous other claims in the Word of the holy God) the day of judgement is coming. God will judge all mankind, and many will be condemned to destruction and death for failing to keep His law. Once again, is this unjust? No. He created us. Who are we to tell Him what to do with His creation? Therefore, God is, without a shadow of a doubt, a God of judgment. He says so in His Word.
Another problem with Dr. Parker’s theology is that he interprets the Bible using his own opinion. As Christians, we should hold Scripture up to the light of Scripture, not our own “wisdom”, for apart from God and His Word, we have no wisdom. We have only the folly of man. Dr. Parker claims that he has studied the entire Bible several times over. In that case, he has certainly read about the judgement of God. Why does he not believe that God is a God of judgement, then? Because he holds Scripture up to the light of his own “wisdom”. If God’s Word doesn’t line up with his opinion of what is good and righteous and just, he regards it as invalid and inapplicable.
Dr. Parker additionally claims that God neither gives nor takes life. He believes that God isn’t sovereign and doesn’t “meddle” in our affairs. In his own words, “Is God really that temperamental and petty? Does God really need all that adoration?” Revelation 15:4 and Exodus 34:14, however, clearly state that God demands that all of mankind worship Him. He demands our worship, our praise, and our adoration. Along with this, God is sovereign in all things, and He both gives us life and takes it away. To deny this is to deny God’s very essence as our Creator and Sustainer.
Finally, Dr. Parker says that God does not hold to moral absolutism. There is no objective right or wrong, but everyone has their own subjective morals. According to Dr. Parker’s theology, God is exasperated with His people who are “overly pious and haughty” who “become inflexible.” This is a foolish claim. Christians are called to stand firm in their faith, not to conform to the world, to submit to God’s Word completely and without exception, and to be kind and loving while never compromising the commandments that God expressly laid out for mankind. God gives precise commandments — He never said, “These are my commandments for you, but if you feel emotionally led to discard some of them, no problem. I understand. Judging you isn’t my prerogative. I just want you to feel that you’re doing what is right. These are just some suggestions, some guidelines.” To believe that there are no moral absolutes is to believe that God is a liar, weakly offering suggestions to the beings that He has created, but without the authority to enforce any of it.
There are many other theological errors in Dr. Parker’s memoir that I don’t have the space to address, but these are a few of the main issues with the foundation of his claims that Christians should support abortion. I am vehemently pro-life. I believe that the unborn are not mere “products of conception”, as Dr. Parker says. Rather, they are beings that conform to the basic scientific standards of a living thing, and members of the species “Homo sapiens”. Therefore, they are living human beings. More importantly, the unborn (as well as the already born) are made in the image of God, and should be just as respected and valued as any human outside of the womb.
In this way, I have the utmost respect for Dr. Parker as a human being made in the image of the living God. However, I do not respect his opinions on life and God. I have no wish to harm him whatsoever (as he says that many pro-life activists do), but I have every wish to stop the harm that he, and others like him, performs on the unborn.
I am horrified by this socially accepted genocide. I do not respect abortion — it is murder.
THIS BOOK IS INCREDIBLE. A must read for anyone - whether pro-choice or not, but especially, especially if you are Christian. Dr. Willie Parker is many things: an OBGYN, a Christian, a Black man in America, someone who overcame poverty - but at his core he is a modern day hero - performing abortions on women who need them in the South. He speaks eloquently about his path to the work he does, and the ways in which he feels he does God's work by providing abortion care. Reading this book I honestly feared for his safety but am so inspired by the bravery and conviction with which he continues to do his life's work.
This dreadful book from an abortionist contains a number of inaccuracies and lies, as well as a lot of flimsy justifications for murder. He claims to be a champion of women but sends a teenager back to an incest situation without reporting it. But I did get some fodder for future articles. I did like that he was honest about looking at the arms, legs, and body parts of aborted babies after abortions and reassembling them to make sure the abortion was complete. At least he didn't sugar coat that part.
Life's Work: A Moral Argument for Choice by Dr. Willie Parker is equal parts memoir and argument for choice. He chronicles his walk of faith as well as his medical path to becoming an abortion provider. He gives an inside look into how women end up in his office and why he thinks it's his moral obligation to help them. I'm not sure his argument will sway the most ardent of anti-abortion believers, but I don't know that that's what he's trying to do. I think he's trying to pull the curtain back on one of the most controversial, stigmatized and misunderstood political issues of our time.
I would like to say THANK YOU to Dr. Parker (just in case he reads these?). Thank you for writing this and thank you for the work you do. I reserve 5-star ratings for books that are not only well-written and engaging, but also IMPORTANT and contribute to my understanding of the world.
This book is one of the top three most important books I have ever read.
I keep telling people that if I had read this book when I was younger, maybe even in high school, I would have been on a different track. This book was so compassionate and thoughtful, and it helped me feel like I wasn't so alone in wanting to believe in Christianity but also believing in reproductive rights.
I would love to foist this into many, many hands. However, here we are in a world where the very words choice or abortion will poison a relationship with someone, regardless of the content.
It's an interesting book because it does not attempt to reason through medical or scientific information, or even really convince you of a point, it only seeks to impart his personal processing journey on the topic and why he finds himself in the position of a christian who is also a doctor primarily performing abortions. One brief chapter does cover the range of actual procedures, what going to a clinic for abortion entails, he explains clinically and informatively imparting the medical facts. That is however not what the book is about. His personal awakening was not a change in medical ideology - he is clear on medical fact as consistent and unchallenged consensus - what swung him from a young doctor who would not perform abortions at all, not due to medical or really personal objection, but based on a religious ideology of the church and the people within (not of the bible itself - he does walk through specifics of what the bible has to say on women's reproductive health in general) that he associated himself with. Instead he was spun on this issue by the Good Samaritan, having a convicting moment surrounding that story that imparts to us the wrongness of choosing to follow religious law over compassion for others, and he was pushed from that point toward compassion. His account of this internal conversion reminds me a great deal of a story comedian Pete Holmes has told on his podcast, that after leaving the church he was more able to be christ-like in a situation when a personal friend had an abortion because he could react with genuine empathy toward them, than he ever would have been in the church, where as soon as you heard about someone who had you would react in horror and judgement.
He tackles a range of topics framed largely in memoir. We learn about how he gained the outside support to go to college, how he founded a church as a young man, what shaped his decisions in both going into medicine and focusing on abortion and women's reproductive health, then his moves into advocacy. He recounts the experience of his youth, seeing his family choose to give financial and emotional support to a brother who committed a crime over a sister who became pregnant, while thinking himself righteous sat in judgement wondering why they couldn't just not make mistakes.
Much like that sister, he shares a wide range of anecdotes throughout of patients who were making a necessary decision from lack of support, many patients who already had kids at home they needed to take care of, patients who were on the cusp of escaping tragic circumstances that a pregnancy would trap them in, stories of women delayed by denial or lack of knowledge of their own bodies, also the stories of abortions painfully delayed out of need to gather funds for a costly procedure. He talked about the reality that while 2nd trimester abortions remain a tiny portion the recently introduced legal barriers to using health care aid for low income individuals, along with waiting periods, has led to an uptick in those procedures and for people who firmly knew their choice weeks earlier.
He rounds out with debunking some harmful social, political, protest, and messaging manipulations or outright lies that are used in the arguments to limit or ban the procedures. Discussing the way those are not reflective of reality and even more importantly the direct effects they have for harm.
I come from a very different background and faith tradition from Dr. Parker, but his book deeply resonated with me. It is a political, moral, and religious explanation of his work as an abortion provider.
This book will not convince those who believe that abortion is murder and that is the end of the story, as the one star reviews here show. But many of us do not live in such a black and white moral world (and, Dr. Parker says, this belief is relatively recent for Protestants). I grew up believing, and still believe, that the Bible specifically says abortion is not murder, though it does not explicitly say if it is permissible or not. Instead, Dr. Parker believes in a theology of compassion for the women he treats, and an understanding that the Bible defends all manner of oppression against women that we do not accept today. In his view (and mine) a great deal of anti abortion activism today is based on sexual control of women. In my own experience, I have seen people opposed to abortion harden their hearts against the issues women face, and say they should have made better choices so they would not be in a position to need an abortion, or that their abortion is not truly necessary.
Dr. Parker's personal story is also well worth reading--his path to becoming a doctor was far from simple, and his decision to return to the South to serve the women there was not easy. It's a reminder of the many difficulties children, especially black children, face in order to succeed.
There were two specific small details that did not sit well with me. One was his assertion (repeated twice) that fetuses do not feel pain before 29 weeks. I don't know the science about fetuses in-utero and pain, but what I do know is that claims about pain have been used to deny that early preemies do not feel pain--and many NICU parents can tell you otherwise. I don't know if this is an error of science or phrasing, since it's clearly intended to apply to abortion and not to preemies in a NICU. Two, he slams perinatal hospice as a pro life front. Pro life activists may have latched on to perinatal hospice, and there may not be a defined medical protocol for it yet, but I have read about hospice programs that were helpful to families.
This memoir is just what the title says: a moral argument for choice. Dr. Willie Parker is a black Christian doctor and feminist that is an advocate for allowing women to make their own reproductive decisions. The main points of the book hinge on the supposed conundrum that Dr. Parker is a Christian and an abortion provider. Raised by a poor single mother in a small Alabama town (just miles from where I grew up!), his world view is shaped by his early Christian conversion and the presence of strong women in his life. In sum, his argument is that he sees women's rights as a human right and the most Christian thing that he can do is provide them with the help/service that they need. He provides the reader with several examples of women he has seen over the years and makes the argument that most women seeking reproductive care in his office are not entering into the decision lightly, but are full aware of the decision that they are making -one that saves their lives in one way or another. He discusses how the "abortion debate" made its way into modern politics and theology and how limited access to abortion serves particularly affected low income women of color. This was a very interesting read and I believe that most people (especially those that identify as Christian) should read. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to a friend.
This was a great read on the subject matter. Dr. Parker and I grew up in very different but also similar environments (aka a very religious small town in the south).
His views on the Bible, abortion, and Christianity mirror mine and it was nice to read the words of someone else that thinks as I do. You can tell he’s a passionate man of faith, doctor and human being.
It’s an excellent read for anyone interested in women’s rights and women’s health; there are several passages in here that really make you think.
I love the way that Dr. Parker explains his care for women. His approach to the abortion issue is nuanced and most importantly loving. Dr. Parker takes the time to highlight the many ways that women are viewed as incapable of making their own reproductive decisions. His absolute commitment to protecting a women's right to choose her own path resonates deeply with me. Dr. Parker arrives at this position largely with his christian faith in tact if not strengthened.