Dr. Willie Parker was born into poverty and Christianity in Birmingham, AL. He became a doctor specializing in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine. He later joined the faculty at the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine in Honolulu.
During his first 12 years of practice, Parker did not provide abortion services for any of his patience. While some of his Christian friends were opposed to it and believed abortions to be immoral, Parker says he avoided dealing with the moral complexity of the issue by not providing the services himself. He did observe other providers perform the procedures, but he kept his distance from the controversial subject by not directly providing services.
Things changed when a change of leadership at the hospital led to the end of providing abortion services there. It sparked a crisis at the hospital and a rebellion among some physicians and nurses who saw the necessity of the legal services.
When some of his peers decided to create a clinic separate from the hospital where they would provide the mostly poor women the abortions they wanted, Parker came to a personal reckoning with abortion.
In this interview, he talks about how listening to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s final speech, delivered in Memphis, TN, the night before he was assassinated changed his perspective on abortion and moved him to get trained and certified so that he, too, could provide the services for his patients.
The part of Dr. King’s sermon/speech that moved him, Parker says in the interview, was when the Civil Rights leader talked about the parable of the Good Samaritan. A Jewish traveler had been beaten and injured while traveling. A priest and a Levite pass him but ignore his needs. A Samaritan (considered enemies of Jews at the time) stopped to help.
Parker says that it was the Samaritan’s perspective of asking what the fate of the traveler would be if he did not stop to help is what swayed him to change his position about performing abortions — “What would become of my patients if I wasn’t willing to help them?”
Parker talks about his decision to leave his faculty position in Hawaii to go to the University of Michigan’s Medical School to get his training and the needs his patients in this interview. The interview was recorded by phone from an airport while Dr. Parker was en route to a speaking engagement about his book which chronicles his life, his faith and his decision to become an abortion provider.