Willie Parker vs Reproductive Oppression

Dr. Willie Parker

Dr. Willie Parker

“The Racialization of Abortion,” Willie Parker titled his talk; “A Dirty Jedi Mind Trick.” He then spent about 45 lively, provocative minutes elaborating on the theme.

The occasion was a recent Grand Rounds presentation at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, where he addressed a standing-room-only crowd of (mostly) young interns for an event that more commonly draws a smattering of attendees. But when Willie Parker comes to town, it’s a good idea to bring in extra chairs. Parker is an African American physician, a provider of abortion and reproductive health services to women who would otherwise be denied them, current board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Health, a ferocious defender of women’s rights and fearless citizen. He is also this writer’s personal hero.

Parker explained in his opening remarks that his “is heart work and head work. Dr. Martin Luther King said the heart can’t be right if the head is wrong. (King) also said we have guided missiles and misguided people.” On the podium, delivering a rapid-fire lecture in behalf of reproductive justice, Parker is akin to a guided missile consisting of equal parts passion, outrage and statistics. The youngest of six children whose mother sent them to church three times a week, he speaks with the cadence and conviction born of those roots.

“There are over six million pregnancies per year in the U.S.,” he says. “Half of them are unintended. Of the unintended pregnancies, half end in births; half in abortions. One in three women under 45 will have an abortion. While unintended pregnancies have fallen among the upper classes, they have increased 29% among the poor. Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately likely to have unintended pregnancies…”

And it is at this point that Parker’s inner preacher takes over. “People,” he says, “we’re gonna get ugly for Jesus.” It is his challenge to those who attack him, most often fundamentalist Christians, for protecting the reproductive rights of his mostly young, Black clients. Often they also accuse him of participating in “Black genocide.” It is this myth — that abortion is a government plot to eradicate the Black race – that leads to the Dirty Jedi Mind Trick theme.

“It is epidemiological mischief,” he explains. “They take data, put a spin on it that is not intended, and then start a ‘call-and-response’: You have white people saying abortion is racist, getting Black people to say Amen. They can put a cultural war in your framework. It’s important that we recognize the significance of this message, and debunk it.”

In addition to the epidemiological mischief there are outright lies. Former presidential candidate Herman Cain, an African American Tea Party Republican, said in one speech that 75% of abortion clinics were in Black neighborhoods, to encourage African American women not to have children. Parker says the correct figure, according to the Guttmacher Institute, is 9%.

“At its core,” Parker says of these efforts, “it is patriarchal and insulting. They assume a woman is not capable of making her own decisions about her own body.”

What’s needed now, to combat all this, Parker says, “is a new framework, to define this community problem as Reproductive Oppressionon. Reproductive oppression is the control and exploitation of women and girls and individuals through our bodies.” Parker cites the long history of reproductive oppression that includes “forced breeding during slavery, sterilizations, and human experimentation on Puerto Rican women for the contraceptive pill.

“Current examples of reproductive oppression,” he says, “include limiting access to reproductive healthcare, family caps in welfare, and federal and state laws restricting access to abortion.”

But there is hope. Parker cites Atlanta-based SisterSong and its formidable co-founder Loretta Ross as embodying the principals of reproductive justice. Parker lists these as:

1 – Every woman has the right to decide when to have children.

2 – Every woman has the right to decide if she will not have a child.

3 – Women and families (deserve) the resources to parent the children they already have.

4 – Every human being has the right to primary sexual pleasure.

Anti-abortion forces would certainly argue against at least the first two. Parker’s message to the young interns was that it’s not just argument, but twisted myths and dirty tricks that are being used to deny those rights. He maintains it’s the responsibility of the medical community, among others, to stand up for women who are suffering from being denied, to fight against reproductive oppression.

In all likelihood, Willie Parker will keep right on leading that battle.

  *   *   *   *

(Read Dr. Parker’s statement on the recent Supreme Court ruling against restrictive Texas abortion laws: http://prh.org/)

 

Abortion foes invade NY Metro

A new attack on reproductive rights is underway, this time on New York City subways. As if the Georgia anti-choice campaign linking abortion rights to Black genocide or the Polish campaign linking abortion to Hitler weren’t enough, now we have a soft sell campaign complete with well-dressed women ostensibly traumatized by a past abortion and downcast men who  yearn to be good fathers.  Come on, folks. Is it possible that (often poor, often desperate) women choosing to have an abortion have perfectly good brains, and not many of them have the man in question offering support?

The 2,000 ads, which straphangers (are now seeing) in nearly every subway station, depict either a woman saying, “I thought life would be the way it was before,” or a man saying, “I often wonder if there was something I could have done to help her.”

Many people, certainly including this writer, will have reservations about all this.

“The campaign suggests that feelings of sadness and self-harm are the universal experiences for someone who had an abortion,” said Samantha Levine of NARAL Pro-Choice New York. “And there’s no evidence to suggest that that’s true.”

“The organization behind these ads has an agenda,” continued Levine. “They aren’t seeking to help women — they’re seeking to get abortion banned.”

But Michaelene Fredenburg, who started San Diego-based Abortion Changes You (25 years) after her own abortion, says her ads are more about helping people than politics.

“I had an abortion when I was 18,” said Fredenburg, 44. “I had a hard time … I wanted to reach out and say you’re not alone.”

Fredenburg’s agenda could be broader than Levine suggests, or narrower, depending on your degree of cynicism. She has, surprise, a book. You can purchase it on her website at a 20% discount, for $19.95. Plus “outreach materials” that include cards ($20 for 250), posters (set of three, $50.) A disclaimer at the bottom of most pages says it is “not a professional counseling site” or meant to replace such, but you are offered ‘Healing Pathways’ to follow or other readers’ stories to read.

Fredenburg was 8 when Roe v Wade paved the way for her to choose a safe, legal abortion 10 years later. Had that not been the case, she might well have joined the uncounted thousands who died at the hands of back alley butchers rather than lived to create an organization. Contributions are invited, and purportedly tax deductible, although there is no mention of 501(c)3 status. Miscellaneous retreats (and the phone number of a suicide prevention hotline) are listed under the ‘Find Help’ button. Planned Parenthood is notably not listed, although they often help, and they do not force anyone to have an abortion.

I have no reason, other than it seems a great way to sell stuff and make a few bucks, to question Fredenburg’s altruistic intentions in founding Abortion Changes You. (PS, so does an unwanted pregnancy.) But if she is not in cahoots with those who seek to eliminate a woman’s right to control her own body, she is their tool. Should they succeed, women will return to a dark age that today’s 44-year-olds cannot begin to imagine.

When Fredenburg agrees to fight for all women’s right to control their own bodies, and to have access to the safe, sterile, legal abortion she presumably chose for herself, as well as to console others who have long-afterward regrets, I’ll buy her book.

Metro – Don’t look now: You may not like the ads you see.