Life's Work: A Moral Argument for Choice by Willie Parker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I've read about Dr. Willie Parker before. There's a lovely profile of him here at Esquire. Rereading that now, it has many of the themes that Dr. Parker expounds on here. This book is part memoir, tracing Willie Parker's life journey from the depths of poverty to the heights of a prestigious, well-paying career as an ob/gyn; part declaration of faith, as he relates being born again at age fifteen and how he balances his Christianity with his now full-time work as an abortion provider; and a fierce, ethical, and moral argument for the right of women to make this choice.
This is a very frank and refreshingly scientific treatise on the procedure of abortion. Dr. Parker describes it in detail, and busts many pro-lifer myths along the way. Abortion does not cause breast cancer; abortion is safer than childbirth; Planned Parenthood does not sell fetal tissue; and the vast majority of women do not regret their abortions, but rather feel relief, or at most a bittersweet acceptance. (As Dr. Parker says [pg. 98]: "I find that my patients are far more sensible, and far less histrionic, about the realities of this process than their elected representatives are.") He discusses second-trimester abortions and the myriad reasons a woman might have one, summing up his stance with this (pg. 101): "I perform second-trimester abortions, within the legal limits of state and federal law, because women tell me they need them."
For Dr. Willie Parker, this is the only reason he needs. It's the only reason anyone should need.
In chapter 9, "Preaching Truth," he examines several of the anti's objections to abortion, and deconstructs them with a doctor's knowledge, a scientist's precision, and a storyteller's cadence. I'm just going to quote a few paragraphs here, because I could never say it any better.
Most women who seek abortions are healthy and in the prime of their lives. Whatever factored into their decision making, they know what they want to do, or what they need to do by the time they enter my office, and they have gotten the money together. These are the "lucky" ones.
Adults are presumed to be able to look after their own best interests and the best interests of the people who are depending on them. In every case except abortion, society bestows upon individuals this trust, even if those individuals have demonstrated that they cannot be trusted to make good decisions. The presumption undergirding abortion decision making is that women who have had sex and are accidentally or unintentionally pregnant can't be trusted to comprehend the consequential weight of their actions. The law requires them, like bad little girls, to "prove" to authorities that they have thought carefully about what they're about to do.
In health care, no other medical condition is treated this way. (pg. 141)
In my conversation with the young anti-abortion activists at the University of Alabama that day, I presented fatal fetal anomalies as clear-cut cases for the necessity of preserving abortion rights up to and beyond twenty weeks. They countered that sometimes miracles happen that allow these fetuses to survive. Yes, I answered, maybe. But most of the time they don't. And the students were forced to concede that, sometimes, maybe, abortion does not equal murder. And then I brought my argument home: If you can agree that certain medical conditions might justify abortion, then how can you exclude social, or personal, or financial conditions? If abortion is permissible in the case of a fatal fetal anomaly, then why not in the case of homicidal, battering partner? Or a dire lack of resources? Or a drug dependency? How can the state adjudicate the circumstances of a woman's life at all? (pg. 153)
This is a wonderful book: concise, compassionate, well argued. I thought before that Willie Parker is a goddamned hero, and this book only reinforces that. He is proud of the work he does, and I'm proud, and grateful, that we have him.
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