By Elaina Ramsey, Ohio RCRC Executive Director

I’m still glowing from “An Evening with Dr. Willie Parker,” an event recently organized by Pre-Term Cleveland and co-sponsored by Ohio RCRC, along with a number of other stellar partner organizations.

It was a sight to behold as hundreds of people strolled past antichoice protesters and streamed into The Church of the Covenant in Cleveland to hear Dr. Parker discuss the moral dignity of women’s voices.

As a Southern Christian abortion provider and reproductive justice advocate, Dr. Parker is committed to serving women with care, compassion, and courage.

But he wasn’t always this way.

In his book Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice, Dr. Parker recounts how he refused to offer abortion services as a young obstetrician-gynecologist due to his fundamentalist Christian upbringing. But after further prayer and reflection on the biblical story of the Good Samaritan, he discerned that not offering abortion care and supporting women in need was actually contrary to his faith. So he gave up his private practice and a penthouse in Hawaii to offer safe abortions in the Deep South to those with the most need—often women of color living in under-resourced communities with few options to control their reproductive lives. 

Dr. Parker’s journey resonates deeply with me, because once upon a time I was also antichoice. Raised in Southern Ohio, I subscribed to a black and white understanding of Christianity that judged and condemned most anyone who didn’t support my narrow understanding of the Bible or my faulty notions of good Christian living. This, of course, included contempt toward LGBTQ people and abortion supporters.

But I’m a firm believer that people can change.

After getting raped in college, I seriously began to rethink my faith, which was based on dogmatic certitude and nothing that resembled actual faithfulness – things like compassion, doubt, wonder, and mystery. And I came to understand the value of consent and choice, to honor people’s stories and lived experiences, and to recognize that the abortion debate is not so black and white.

Today I’m proud to stand with Dr. Parker—a board member of the National RCRC family—to offer an alternative vision and voice in support of reproductive justice. With moral imagination, Ohio RCRC is committed to creating safe spaces—in places of worship and beyond—where all people can share their reproductive challenges and triumphs.

....Where women are trusted as moral agents to decide when and whether to bear children and to raise them in safe, healthy environments should they choose to parent.

....Where a woman has the freedom to make reproductive decisions with the support of her medical provider, family, and spiritual/religious/secular community—all without interference from the government or other people.

....Where birth control and abortion can be discussed openly without shame or stigma.

....Where people of faith, conscience, and goodwill stand in the gap to affirm that women are of sacred worth and their bodies should not be polarized or politicized.

As Dr. Parker said best during the event, “My job as a Christian is to show non-Christians that Christians can be moral.” The same can be said, of course, about any religious or spiritual practice. But as a recovering evangelical, I will continue to “work out my salvation with fear and trembling” by honoring women’s choices without moral judgment.

I believe that restoration and redemption is possible. That hearts and minds can be transformed. That there is another way of being in this world. All I have to do is look in a mirror or reflect on Dr. Parker’s Life’s Work to know this to be true.

If you believe this to be true as well, then join Ohio RCRC in this journey toward reproductive health, rights, choice, and justice. Become a member and help spread the word that anyone can be “pro-faith, pro-family, pro-choice.”

And maybe, just maybe, that packed church with Dr. Parker will no longer be the exception but the norm. May it be so.