The Atlantic

Providing Abortions in the Deep South

Willie Parker discusses his Christian faith, teen moms, and what’s next for abortion access.
Source: Brynn Anderson / AP

Willie Parker is an imposing ob-gyn who has been traveling across the deep South providing abortions since 2012. At times, he has been one of the few providers in the only abortion clinic for hundreds of miles. Though he had been flying down from his home in Chicago twice a month to provide abortions in Mississippi and elsewhere, he recently moved to Birmingham, Alabama—closer to the center of the abortion wars.

He is also a practicing Christian, and he frequently refers to his faith as being the reason why he does what he does. It’s the argument he lays out in his recently published book, Life’s Work, and in his new position as board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Health, a prominent pro-choice advocacy group.

I recently sat down with Parker to talk about how attitudes toward abortion are changing at a time when access to the procedure is on the decline in many parts of the United States. Abortion is at an all-time low in the United States, but in some places it’s also harder to come by: More than 30 percent of the 334 abortion restrictions enacted since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision came in just the last six years.

I interviewed Parker about what performing abortions in conservative states looks like today, what might be to come, and how he thinks about abortion as a Christian. A lightly edited and condensed transcript of our conversation follows.

Olga Khazan: I’ve talked with former abortion providers in the South and a lot of what they talked about was, frankly, the stigma that they dealt with. So what is that process like when you’re trying to encourage new doctors to provide abortions? What kinds of fears do people have that you have had to assuage?

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