Donald Trump will abolish women's right to abortion, warns expert US doctor

Exclusive: 'It was criminal once before, and it is their intent to make it criminal again,' says Dr Willie Parker

Click to follow
The Independent US

A leading abortion doctor has warned the legal right to have an abortion will be abolished across America under Donald Trump.

Dr Willie Parker, a prominent abortion advocate in the deep south of America, said he expected the Trump presidency to succeed in overturning Roe v Wade. President Trump has already pledged to do all he can to overturn the landmark Supreme Court decision which legalised abortion nationwide in 1973.

In his first interview after winning the election, the billionaire said he wanted to appoint “pro-life” judges with the goal of overturning Roe v Wade “automatically”. Some expect his highly conservative Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch to now attempt to put this into action.

Dr Parker, who has been an obstetrician-gynecologist for more than 23 years and has carried out abortions full-time for almost a decade, said he thought the criminalisation of abortion was a concrete possibility with Mr Trump in the White House and he expected it would be much harder to do his job in the future.

“It was criminal once before, and it is their intent to make it criminal again,” he told The Independent.

“So far all the things Trump’s promised to do, he’s made the effort to do. He was always pro-choice in the 1990’s but he changed his position to sit with the politics of what was going to get him elected."

Dr Parker, a former medical director of a Planned Parenthood affiliate, said the overturning of Roe v Wade would mean a woman’s access to abortion services is dictated by her postcode.

“If you overturn Roe there will be no federal law to protect a woman’s right to an abortion in every state, so there are a lot of states where abortion will become illegal, like some of the first states to approve it.”

Dr Parker, who has made a name for himself for performing abortions in states where almost no other doctors will do so, suggested it would remain legal in liberal states such as California and Hawaii but was likely to become illegal in states like Mississippi, Alabama, and many others.

(Getty Images for the Center for Reproductive Rights)

“Where you have Conservative people running the government they have campaigned on promising to make abortion illegal,” he explained. “In these states, women will have even more limited access to abortion than they already do.”

“It means a women’s health when it comes to her reproduction, would depend on her zip code and where she lives. It would make providing abortions more difficult. It would limit the places where we can provide.” 

This would be likely to hit immigrant women and women of colour harder as restrictive abortions at state-level have already been found to have a disproportionate impact on these minority groups. 

Commentators have also argued the landmark decision is facing a new and severe threat in the wake of a Trump administration. They have floated the possibility of the Supreme Court gradually curbing Roe v Wade’s scope while leaving the decision strictly intact. To put this into context, a strongly conservative court could make procedures essentially illegal in practice by authorising restrictive abortion laws over time. In a similar vein, Dr Parker noted judges could be reticent to overturn Roe v Wade because it is a legal precedent which has provided the foundation of abortion law and policy for four decades.

But Jennifer Dalven, director of American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project, said she thought Roe v Wade could easily be overturned during Mr Trump's tenure.

“Last June, the Court issued a strong decision limiting the ability of politicians to obstruct a woman's access to abortion and the five Justices who signed that opinion are still on the Court,” she said. “But if Trump gets to appoint another Justice, the Court could allow states to ban abortion completely or give politicians the green light to put up roadblock after roadblock in the path of women.  Either way, the effect will be the same for many people.  Women who have decided that having an abortion is the right decision for themselves and their family simply will not be able to get one.”          

In the last week, it has been suggested that President Trump could have the chance to appoint a second person to the Supreme Court as early as this summer after rumours Justice Anthony Kennedy could retire. It's worth noting that William Pryer, one of the contenders for the new role, has called Roe v Wade the “worst abomination in the history of constitutional law.”

Ms Dalven, who has worked on numerous high-profile abortion cases as a lawyer, said she was deeply worried about the repercussions of overturning the law.

“For many folks abortion is legal but already out of reach. States like Missisipi, Kentucky and South Dakota only have one abortion provider. Things are already very bad but without Roe it would be a much, much worse version of what we have today. It is very frightening.”

Mr Trump’s current Supreme Court pick, Gorsuch, has never ruled directly on Roe v Wade but anti-abortion activists cite the language he has used in his book on assisted suicide as evidence of his sympathetic position.

“To act intentionally against life is to suggest that its value rests only on its transient instrumental usefulness for other ends …,” the Judge writes. “All human beings are intrinsically valuable, and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.”

Nevertheless, when questioned during his confirmation hearing in March, Judge Gorsuch, a Protestant, referred to Roe v Wade as “the law of the land” and said he would have “walked out of the door” if Mr Trump had asked him to overturn it in his interview.

In Dr Parker's opinion, anti-abortion advocates have already been emboldened into proposing restrictive abortion legislation since Mr Trump’s arrival in the White House, saying: “The people who feel he speaks for them they are feeling more empowered".

He said carrying out abortions was starting to feel noticeably more dangerous under a Trump administration and he had experienced increased aggression from anti-abortion activists.

“It is getting a little riskier to do the work we do. The protesters are a bit more aggressive, they harass women and they harass providers,” he explained. "I post a lot on Facebook and Twitter and I’ve had death threats. Nobody has physically accosted me but people have said stuff like ‘Somebody should shoot you in the head. I know where you live. If you think you can kill babies and it will be okay you are wrong’.”

Dr Parker did not carry out abortions for 12 years of his career but began to see things differently after reading a sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. For almost a decade now, the Alabama native has travelled around various states providing abortion care and has participated in lawsuits in Alabama and Mississippi to try and block state laws from closing abortion clinics.

Dr Parker, who is in connection with law enforcement, has been racially abused by activists on a number of occasions during his career. “There have been places where I’ve had them call me a ‘filthy negro abortionist’, I’ve had some say, ‘Do I have to call you the ‘n’ word?’” 

While abortion has become an increasingly partisan issue in the US in recent years, this has significantly increased under a Trump administration. Mr Trump is under pressure to keep the Republican Party, whose overwhelming majority of elected officials are anti-abortion, happy and reward the anti-abortion voters who helped put him in the White House.

The Trump administration’s actions since coming to power 14 weeks ago already show a commitment to implementing anti-abortion policies. On his fourth day in office, Mr Trump signed an executive order prohibiting US funding for any international aid groups which give women information about abortion, even if they do not perform the procedures.

“NGO’s which receive funding from the US are prohibited from even mentioning abortion so it’s really a form of coercion because if you don’t present a woman with all of her options you are really not counselling her,” Dr Parker said. “You are coercing her in a certain direction.” 

In addition to this, at the beginning of the month the US state department announced it was ending funding for the UN population fund (UNFPA). In a letter to US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, the State Department said it was dropping the funding because the UN Population Fund “supports, or participates in the management of, a programme of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilisation.”

In short, abortion rights are coming under fire from all angles under the Trump administration and the fear of Roe v Wade being overturned remains a very real one for some.

"Even though we had conservative and anti-abortion ideologues running in the majority in the legislature before Trump, we were always able to count on the veto power of the President [Barack Obama] to veto restrictive laws that jeopardised abortion rights," Dr Parker concludes. "Now we don’t have that backstop".