Dr. Willie Parker speaks to a packed house during his pro-choice lecture at Old Main Academic Center on the Mississippi State University campus Thursday evening. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff
The one and only outburst from a protestor was three minutes into Dr. Willie Parker's lecture at the Old Main Academic Center on the Mississippi State University campus Thursday evening. "Shame on you!" the protestor shouted as he was escorted out of the auditorium.
Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff
From left, Laura Duran, Dana Chisholm and Pastor Doug Lane stand with pro-life signs at the corner of George Perry Street and Barr Avenue on the Mississippi State University campus Thursday. The pro-lifers protested a speech by Dr. Willie Parker that made the "Christian case" for abortion.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
MSU Students for Life vice president Isabelle Comfort, left, and president Annaliese Gill host a prayer vigil at Mississippi State University's Chapel of Memories Thursday. Students for Life and Catholic Campus Ministry are holding an event for pro-life speaker Christine Bennet at 4 p.m. on March 6.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
March 2, 2018 10:29:50 AM
It took about three minutes for a protester to stand up in the middle of the capacity crowd gathered for Dr. Willie Parker's lecture at Mississippi State University and heckle the speaker.
The male protester yelled for about 30 seconds that Parker, an OB/GYN who performs and advocates for abortions, was going to hell as security escorted him out of the Turner A. Wingo Auditorium.
"You better repent, or you're gonna burn in hell," the protester said. "You better get right with God before it's too late. You've been given the opportunity to repent. You should be ashamed of yourself."
Parker, for his part, said the outburst is what happens when someone is "more Christian than human" and moved on to his talk.
The Mississippi State University Gender Studies Program brought Parker to MSU to give a lecture titled "Abortion and the Christian Case for Choice."
During his talk, Parker argued that he, as a Christian, felt compelled to offer reproductive health services -- including abortions -- to women who need them. He drew a comparison to the parable of the Good Samaritan, and the question of wondering not what would happen to the person who offers help, but the one who needs it.
"It impressed upon me that as a Christian, that it was totally appropriate for me to be concerned about what happens to my patients when they make that request for this type of care that's not available, versus what would happen to me for making the decisions for me to provide care that people object to, to the point that they will stand up in a public space and scream and make predictions about where I might spend my eternity," he said.
Science and religion 'are not enemies'
Throughout his lecture, Parker argued that resistance to abortion in the United States is a relatively recent phenomenon. He pointed repeatedly to the 1980 election for former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and the accompanying rise of the "moral majority."
In painting abortion as a religious issue, rather than a political one, Parker said, pro-life advocates "shrouded" the debate "in the language" of God and seized the moral high ground. He said that's something pro-choice advocates have been unable to reclaim because they've never launched counter-campaigns to frame their arguments from a religious perspective.
He also said the question of when personhood begins is a muddy one, with answers that have changed throughout the ages. However, he noted that legal efforts to recognize personhood as beginning at conception have failed in 28 states, including Mississippi.
Parker, later addressing whether he considers abortion to be murder, said life can perish without being murder. He questioned if the same people who oppose abortion would consider the death penalty murder.
"It strikes me as odd that the advocates of capital punishment in this country, who are frequently the same people who oppose abortion rights, do not regard a death sentence and capital punishment -- in which a living, breathing human life is extinguished by the state -- as murder," Parker said. "Instead, they call it justice.
"The hypocrisy in the political right on capital punishment, on abortion, is more evidence in my opinion on why we cannot use particular religious understandings to arbitrate these very complex questions of life," he added.
In the end, Parker said, science questions need to be answered with science, rather than religion -- just as religious questions need to be answered with religion.
"Science deals mostly with facts," he said. "Religion deals mostly with values. The two are not enemies."
Several groups opposed Parker's lecture on Thursday. The MSU Students for Life and Catholic Campus Ministry -- which are, together, holding an event for pro-life speaker Christine Bennet at 4 p.m. on March 6 -- held a prayer vigil in the Chapel of Memories Thursday afternoon.
At the vigil, which several attended, people voiced their concerns about Parker speaking at the university, and they prayed for the safety of unborn children and the women who have to grapple with the decision of what to do with their pregnancies.
Annaliese Gill, president of Students for Life, warned those at the vigil that Parker's work is, in her view, murder.
"Don't be fooled by this man," she said. "He may have graduated from Harvard. He may be a doctor, but his wise words are just trying to cover up his doing. He is murdering unborn children in our state."
Gill said she respected Parker's right to express his ideals but was concerned that a university department brought him to campus.
"To me, it wouldn't be fair to say, 'Oh we disagree with that so we don't want to hear it,'" Gill said. "This is a place of education -- you're going to hear things you disagree with and that's how you learn. I'm all for exchanging different parts of the argument. It's how he's here and who's putting him here that's our main concern."
Outside the Old Main Academic Center, where Parker gave his speech, a group of five or so protesters -- who were later joined by another group on an opposite street corner -- stood with signs that decried abortion.
One of the protesters, Donna Chisholm, president of Pro-Life Mississippi, said she disagreed with the premise that Parker could make a Christian argument for abortion.
"The biblical perspective is, and we're Christian organization, is the Lord knew us in our mother's womb, and we're created in the image of God," Chisholm said. "That is the real perspective, and that children are heritage of the Lord.
"There's a lot excuses for killing a baby," she later added. "There is never a good reason for killing a baby."
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