The New Darling of the Abortion Rights Movement

And last, the rending pain of re-enactment
Of all that you have done, and been; the shame
Of things ill done and done to others’ harm
Which once you took for exercise of virtue.

∼  T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding, in Four Quartets

Author and culture critic par excellence, Mary Eberstadt, has chronicled the shift among abortion advocates from Mario Cuomo’s “I’m personally opposed, but…” and Bill Clinton’s “safe, legal, and rare” creed to something akin to a religious sacrament. For Eberstadt this transformation was on full display in the jubilant reaction of the pro-choice faithful on June 27, 2016, to the Supreme Court’s 5-3 decision (Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt) that invalidated a Texas law that sought to upgrade the medical standards in abortion clinics.

Democratic activist and former state legislator Wendy Davis “burst into tears,” she told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Similar ecstatic responses were reported from CNN (twice) and Huffington Post. Outside the Supreme Court building after the decision, abortion advocates danced to the music of the Spice Girls and Michael Jackson in what Slate joyously declared was “a thumping block party.” The Daily Show sent this vulgar tweet to its 4.25 million followers: “Celebrate the #SCOTUS ruling! Go knock someone up in Texas!”

Eberstadt is spot-on in identifying the philosophical-religious foundation of the celebration in a syllogism she says “…that’s been there all along, ever since the technological shock of the birth-control pill first stirred this new faith to life. Consenting sex is the highest good; anything that interferes with the highest good is by definition evil; therefore, whatever it takes to grease the wheels of the revolution is not only good too. It is cause for full-throated, Dionysian celebration.”

The Marketing and Dubious Christian Faith Of Dr. Willie Parker
Like any religion, Abortion as Sacrament has its own sacred writings, orthodoxy, holy traditions, hagiography of secular saints, demonology, and apostates (e.g., Dr. Bernard Nathanson). As far as hagiography, one of the newest luminaries has to be Dr. Willie Parker, who allegedly makes a unique contribution to the abortion-on-demand cause: since 2006, he has, according to his own estimates, performed around 10,000 abortions (many late-term), not in spite of, but because of, his self-described deep and abiding Christian faith.

He has received fawning approval from the usual suspects (Gloria Steinem, Cecile Richards, Carole Joffe, et al). Ana Marie Cox, a columnist for the New York Times Magazine, didn’t even try to maintain the façade of an unbiased interviewer when she asked Parker, 54, “I can’t help mentioning that you’re not married. Is that a choice on your part? Because you seem pretty cool.”

In his new book released in April 2017, Life’s Work: A Moral Argument For Choice, Parker, the “cool” abortionist, laments that “… the antis [anti-abortion movement] seized the moral high ground nearly forty years ago, and retain it to this day, because abortion rights activists … have never mounted a significant counterargument.” After this assertion on the dust jacket of the book, the publisher (Simon and Schuster) then adds the words “Until now.” As the cultural Left has trotted Parker out in media outlet after media outlet, their glee is palpable. Their unspoken message is: “Since Roe, you conservative Christians have pilloried us with your moral imperatives; now let’s see how you like it when the tables are turned.”

If you just went by what these media outlets reported and didn’t read Parker’s book, you’d think he was a devout evangelical who led Bible studies, sang in the choir, and served on the Board of Elders at his local church, but, who simply disagreed, in belief and practice, with the mainstream evangelical stance on abortion (76 percent of white evangelicals believe abortion is morally wrong). Nothing could be further from the truth. Parker may have begun his journey at 15 in a fundamentalist Pentecostal church in Birmingham, Alabama, that endeavored to pursue a “Bible-believing, Christ-centered” lifestyle, and then later participated in the evangelical Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship in college, but he lost those moorings long ago.

The pledge he made to his church of sexual abstinence was jettisoned at 21 and led to an intimate, long-term relationship with a woman during his medical training who made him promise, against his own misgivings, to help pay for her abortion if she should become pregnant. After all, she had a big career ahead of her, Parker remembers, and didn’t need an unwanted child getting in the way.

As his religious identity evolved after college, his views on the controversial issues of the day (e.g., abortion, homosexuality, pre-marital sex, liberation theology, the inspiration of Scripture, social justice, etc.) would make him quite comfortable in a liberal Episcopalian or United Church of Christ church: a cultural liberal with some religious window-dressing. He presently attends Quaker meetings and likes them because “no one is in charge.”

Thin Gruel: The Argument of Parker
And the “significant counterargument” that Parker seeks to mount in his book isn’t very significant. On rare occasion, a writer gets to perform a small public service and this is mine: If you’re reading this and thinking about buying the book because you want to feel the force of the arguments of the opposing side, my advice is to save your money and look elsewhere. The .44 Magnum that the pro-choice contingent hopes Parker will bring to the “gunfight” over abortion turns out to be little more than a leaky water-pistol.

For example, in April 2017, he spoke at Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C., and was asked to respond to the claim that abortion is “black genocide” based on the comparatively high rates of abortion among American blacks. Parker, a black American, claimed that this is a “Jedi mind trick” used by the opposition:

What it means is what you’re really trying to do is control abortion, control the fertility of black woman and thereby you control the fertility of all women. Paradoxically you say oh you want to decrease abortion services but what you’re really doing is you’re trying to control the fertility of white women. Why? Because if you’re feeling racially vulnerable in terms of with the browning of America, given that by 2050 there’ll be no clear cut numerical majority, it’ll be a constellation of minorities.

A full treatment, and no less muddled version of this argument, is set forth in his book. Deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics would be easier than making sense of this statement. Its “pretzel logic” was not lost on journalist Lauretta Brown:

Okay, so according to Dr. Parker, people who are trying to prevent the abortion of black babies, meaning what they are advocating for would increase the black population, are actually trying to increase the white population because they’re afraid of minorities? Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to not speak out at all about the abortion of black babies and just discourage white women from having abortions?

False Compassion Precedes Atrocity
For 12 years Parker was an obstetrician and gynecologist and did not perform abortions because he thought it was morally wrong. He did feel compassion for the women he would encounter in his practice who were seeking to procure an abortion and felt more and more uncomfortable turning them away. As he came to embrace the pro-choice position, he had an “epiphany” one day when he read a sermon by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King on what made the Good Samaritan “good.” He described his “conversion” in an opinion piece in the New York Times:

The Samaritan reversed the question of concern, to care more about the well-being of the person needing help than what might happen to him for stopping to give help. I realized that if I were to show compassion, I would have to act on behalf of those women. My concern about women who lacked access to abortion became more important to me than worrying about what might happen to me for providing the services.

When encountering this kind of “compassion,” Flannery O’Connor said, “When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced-labor camps and in the fumes of the gas chamber.” Or in 50 million abortions since Roe v. Wade. For Parker, today’s Good Samaritan encounters two people needing help on the side of the road and ends up killing one (the unborn child) in an effort to help the other (the mother).

Author, radio talk-show host, and Torah scholar, Dennis Prager, contends that good intentions cause most of the world’s great evils (e.g., Communism and the killing of 100 million people) and received an invaluable insight from the late Rabbi Wolfe Kelman: “Dennis, I pretty much have my bad inclination [yetzer hara was the well-known Hebrew term he used] under control; it’s my good inclination [yetzer hatov] that always gets me into trouble.” It’s also interesting to note that in traditional Judaism, doing evil in the Lord’s name is the unforgivable sin.

In the West, where a therapeutic ethos has come to dominate, “compassion,” (yetzer hatov), has become the catnip of the cultural Left, the equivalent of Holy Writ to the devout Christian. Feeling good supersedes doing good: When I feel compassionate, I also feel virtuous, and then, when I act publicly on my compassion in word or deed, I signal that virtue to other like-minded individuals. When they respond favorably, my own virtue has been confirmed. I have a new sense of belonging-ness, and experience a plentitude of endorphins in feeling like I’m a part of something that is bigger than myself. Who needs the cardinal virtues when your own narcissism affords so many pleasures?

Except For The Grace Of God There Go I
As critical as I am of Dr. Parker and his abominations, I did have an “except for the grace of God there go I” moment when I read his book. As someone who spent years in charismatic-evangelical circles, I did find myself, like Parker, having to work through some fundamentalism in my mid-20s. For example, the viewing of two of my favorite movies of all time, Schindler’s List and the German film, The Lives of Others, would’ve been discouraged by some of the people I rubbed shoulders with because of their R rating and brief scenes of nudity.

This is a critical juncture in many people’s religious pilgrimage. One can almost hear the elder devil Screwtape tell his nephew Wormwood, “Wormwood, your patient is working through the legacy of fundamentalism. This is a unique opportunity for you to pour a little poison in his ear and bring him over to our side, for the artificial restraints that were placed on him, that he once thought were rooted in some divine authority, he now realizes were only the traditions of men. By all means you must dissuade him from moving on to a more mature theology and lifestyle that could be found in different precincts in the three branches of the Christian faith. Above all, keep him away from those papist sympathizers and their sacramental theology that harmoniously brings body and soul together. No, you must emphatically whisper in his ear that he really can’t trust anyone who claims to have access to some divine authority. He must instead learn to trust only himself. Even if he still believes that Scripture is inspired, all is not lost as long as he stubbornly places himself as the sole interpreter of it. Making himself the only arbiter of truth and morality will provide you with myriad opportunities, not the least of which is enhancing his feeling of pride that he is his own man.”

Again, except for the grace of God there go I, and having said that, Dr. Willie Parker will now represent a bead on my Rosary to be prayed for in the hopes that he will, like Dr. Bernard Nathanson before him, apostatize, cross the Tiber, and partake of the mercies that endure forever.

(Photo credit: Devin Hunt / NARAL Pro-Choice America)

Jonathan B. Coe

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Jonathan B. Coe is a graduate of Bethel Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. Before being received into the Catholic Church in 2004, he served in pastoral ministry in rural Alaska, and in campus ministry at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. He is the author of Letters from Fawn Creek, a volume of spiritual direction, and lives in the Pacific Northwest.

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