“What will happen to these women if we don’t serve them?” That is the question Dr. Willie Parker asked himself as he grappled with the decision to become an abortion provider. He had already spent more than a decade as an obstetrician/gynecologist, and struggled for many years with the morality of offering abortions. Dr. Parker could see that abortion was an integral part of many women’s reproductive lives. “I come from a religious background, and I also believe strongly in social justice,” he says. “As a women’s health provider, I eventually became uncomfortable not providing abortions.”
Ultimately, the parable of the Good Samaritan persuaded Dr. Parker that he had to offer abortion services to the women he treats. The story of an injured traveler being ignored by passersby resonated with Dr. Parker, who once worked in a hospital that did not allow abortions. “The Good Samaritan was the one person who didn’t think about himself,” he says. “Instead, he asked what would happen to the injured traveler if he didn’t help.”
Dr. Parker is learning to perform abortions and expanding his knowledge of contraception through a family planning fellowship at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. His research there has focused on family planning for men and the acceptability of male contraception. Dr. Parker notes, “Involving men in family planning is an opportunity to increase contraceptive use overall, as well as relieve women of the sole burden of preventing unplanned pregnancy.”
While the family planning fellowship expands his skills in providing reproductive healthcare, Dr. Parker sought out concurrent training in advocacy through the Physicians for Reproductive Health Leadership Training Initiative. He feels that the LTI program fills an important niche for pro-choice physicians: “I think there are many women’s health providers who feel strongly about reproductive rights, but few of us who know how to argue effectively for change.”
The LTI program has already given Dr. Parker opportunities to speak out in support of women’s reproductive health. In October 2007, he joined other Fellows and Physicians members in Washington, DC, for a federal advocacy day. Throughout a day spent urging legislators to help repeal the Hyde Amendment, “I could see the importance of using our influence as physicians to speak with legislators.” Dr. Parker also worked with Physicians on a letter published in the Flint Journal, which emphasized the importance of providing confidential reproductive healthcare to teens.
Joining our Board of Directors in November 2007 gave Dr. Parker another avenue to shape reproductive healthcare in the United States. “I think those of us who care about reproductive rights need to work on two fronts: helping physicians learn about reproductive health and shaping the social and political environment we live and work in. I’m excited to be intimately involved in Physicians’ work for change on both levels.”
His training in advocacy and abortion is helping Dr. Parker serve the very women he used to worry about leaving behind. Having made the decision to become a provider, “I feel at home now.”