Inside the pink, yellow, and red waiting room, business continues as usual. There's voluble chatter among the staff and clients as BET plays on the television, an old Jamie Foxx rerun with canned laughter.
When Parker isn't talking or performing procedures, he sits serenely in his office. On one break, he eats what he calls a "cardiac" breakfast of bacon and eggs, loading up for the dozens of operations ahead of him.
Though Parker has long been a doctor and a gynecologist, he came to his current profession in mid-life. After attending a specialized program at University of Michigan, he began performing abortions roughly 10 years ago, working at clinics in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. The decision was not an easy one. "I grew up in the black church and I was conflicted about what it would mean to help women with their unplanned pregnancies," says Parker, who was raised without much money by a single mother in Birmingham, Alabama.
But then he had an epiphany. He realized that "a safe and early abortion was the Christian thing." He reenvisioned Christianity as "a love ethic, especially around the doctrine of compassion." Part of that compassion, he believed, was to help young women who had nowhere else to turn. There was a personal dimension for him as well: His own grandmother died in childbirth.
Last May, Parker began traveling down to the Jackson clinic from D.C. and Philadelphia a few days a month. (He also spends a few days a month at a clinic in Montgomery, Alabama.) He had read about the impending Mississippi law and had a strong sense that he was needed. Once he arrived, he was pleased to find the clinic located in an accepting, "avant-garde" neighborhood with vintage stores and coffee shops. But he was disturbed by the zeal of protesters. One took a picture of him at a local sub shop, and another shouted out his name, including his middle name. He is unmarried and has no children, and his girlfriend supports his work, but he says she also "fears harm will befall me."
"I don't want to falsely reassure myself," Parker says, naming two abortion providers who were killed by pro-life extremists. "[Bernard] Slepian died in the kitchen, [George] Tiller at church."
Along with his own safety concerns, Parker must grapple with the stigma of abortion in other ways. His patients frequently ask him whether they will be punished for what they're about to do. "They fear divine will and divine intervention. They'll ask, 'Do you think God will kill me for killing my baby?'"
It's a difficult practice. As Parker explains, an abortion is something most women would rather forget, and the poorer clients at the clinics Parker works at are usually "putting out lots of other fires" in their lives. The only patient who has kept up a warm friendship with him is a woman who learned of rare genetic abnormalities late in her first and second pregnancies. Parker performed the procedures after she and her husband chose to abort. Just this summer, the woman had a healthy baby and invited him to her newborn's bris.
"Which women deserve or don't deserve care?" asks Parker. "I want for other people what I want for myself. These women should have what I have. That's dignity and making peace with an uncertain God."
A longer version of this story will soon be available from The Atavist. It was produced with support from the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.