As the Supreme Court nears its decision on a major abortion case this month, we're revisiting an episode from earlier this year:
Willie Parker grew up in Alabama without electricity, one of six kids in a single-mother household. He learned to read by the light of a kerosene lamp.
He was also raised in a fundamentalist Christian community that believed abortion was wrong. Single, unwed mothers had to publicly apologize in church.
Today, however, Parker is a obstetrician gynecologist who specializes in providing safe abortions in the Deep South. He travels between states and clinics amid protests and threats, and treats the same demographic of women who might have gone to his church.
Parker credits his change of heart to a sermon he heard by Martin Luther King Jr., where he alludes to the biblical story of the Good Samaritan—a man who acts out of kindness for the greater good.
“The Good Samaritan asks what will happen to this person if I don’t stop to help them,” Parker said.
Women in this region of the United States have few options, Parker says, if they aren’t ready to be mothers. The last abortion clinic in Mississippi was attacked last year, and the state moved to block doctors from being able to admitting patients to hospitals after they received an abortion. Parker says the trend of unsafe, secretive abortions are too dangerous to deny women access to care.
“Being born in the South, and being reared in abject poverty… if I couldn’t make those women a priority, who will?” he says.
That perspective has fueled his work and helped shape his faith. It’s also the reason he doesn’t shy away from being recorded on film or speaking in public, despite the pressure he gets from the pro-life movements that thrive in the Bible Belt.
And while Parker has lost some friends, and severed relationships, he is at peace with his decision.
“I believe my work is honorable. I believe it is always appropriate to help people,” he says. “And so I’ve made the conscious decision to practice my craft with the dignity and honor that I think it is due.”