Esquire has a wonderful profile of Dr. Willie Parker, one of the two doctors who flies in from out-of-state to work at Mississippi’s sole embattled abortion clinic. Parker, whose decision to become an abortion provider is deeply rooted in his Christian faith, quit his obstetrics practice to do the procedures full-time after Dr. Tiller was assassinated five years ago. These days, he travels around the country providing abortion care in areas where access is most limited and is an eloquent advocate for reproductive justice.
Many of these women come from hours away, one from a little town on the Kentucky border that’s a seven-hour drive. They don’t know much about Dr. Parker. They don’t know that he grew up a few hours away in Birmingham, the second youngest son of a single mother who raised six children on food stamps and welfare, so poor that he taught himself to read by a kerosene lamp and went to the bathroom in an outhouse; that he was born again in his teenage years and did a stint as a boy preacher in Baptist churches; that he became the first black student-body president of a mostly white high school, went on to Harvard and a distinguished career as a college professor and obstetrician who delivered thousands of babies and refused to do abortions. They certainly don’t know about the “come to Jesus” moment, as he pointedly describes it, when he decided to give up his fancy career to become an abortion provider. Or that, at fifty-one, having resigned a prestigious job as medical director of Planned Parenthood, he’s preparing to move back south and take over a circuit roughly similar—for safety reasons, he won’t be more specific—to the one traveled by Dr. David Gunn before an antiabortion fanatic assassinated him in 1993. Or that his name and home address have been published by an antiabortion Web site with the unmistakable intent of terrorizing doctors like him. Or that he receives threats that say, “You’ve been warned.” Or that he refuses to wear a bulletproof vest, because he doesn’t want to live in fear—”if I’m that anxious, they’ve already taken my life”—but owns a stun gun because a practical man has to take precautions. What they do know is this:
He is the doctor who is going to stop them from being pregnant.
The profile captures Dr. Parker’s motivation for doing this work and the great care and empathy he brings to it. It also offers a rare glimpse into what actually happens at an abortion clinic and shows the huge diversity among the stories of the dozens of women Dr. Parker helps each day. You should really read the rest here.