Southern Baptist Condemns IVF in Convention Resolution | Sojourners

Southern Baptist Condemns IVF in Convention Resolution

Congregants take part in an annual “Freedom Sunday” service at the First Baptist evangelical Southern Baptist megachurch in Dallas, Texas, June 26, 2022. REUTERS/Shelby Tauber

The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., on Wednesday voted to condemn the use of in vitro fertilization, signaling the campaign by evangelicals against abortion is widening to include the popular fertility treatment.

Earlier at its annual meeting, a proposed amendment to the church’s constitution that would have banned women as pastors fell just short of the two-thirds majority vote it needed to pass.

In its vote against in vitro fertilization, or IVF, the Southern Baptists said the process routinely creates more embryos than can be implanted and that leads to the destruction of hundreds of thousands of frozen embryos, which the church considers human life.

IVF involves combining eggs and sperm in a laboratory dish to create an embryo.

The move is the latest sign that U.S. evangelicals — a powerful voting bloc that helped propel Donald Trump to victory in the 2016 presidential election — are broadening their anti-abortion efforts, two years after successfully helping to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Trump’s challenger for the Nov. 5 election — President Joe Biden — in turn has made access to abortion, contraception, and fertility treatments a centerpiece of his campaign, arguing that reproductive rights are at risk if Trump were to be re-elected.

The Southern Baptist Convention includes 50,000 churches and over 14 million members and has become a political force in recent decades.

The IVF resolution before the thousands of leaders gathered in Indianapolis noted the pain infertile couples encounter but said that “not all technological means of assisting human reproduction are equally God-honoring or morally justified.” 

Before the IVF vote, some Baptist leaders spoke about their own experiences with IVF and urged a softening of the resolution’s language to put less emphasis on the frozen embryos involved in the medical process.

Daniel Taylor, a deacon with Charity Baptist Church in Paris, Mich., spoke emotionally about his godson, who was born through IVF.

“Because of him, I thank God for IVF,” Taylor said.

He added that the IVF resolution “would castigate and condemn the entirely moral and ethical actions” of parents seeking to have a child through IVF.

The resolution recommended members use alternative fertility therapies or adopt frozen embryos.

The resolution called on “Southern Baptists to reaffirm the unconditional value and right to life of every human being, including those in an embryonic stage, and to only utilize reproductive technologies consistent with that affirmation.”

‘Stand for life’

In February, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos should be considered children. The ruling arose from lawsuits by three families against Alabama fertility procedure providers accused of failing to properly safeguard frozen embryos, resulting in their destruction when a patient improperly accessed them.

The court ruling was based on an amendment to the Alabama state constitution approved by voters in 2018 that made it official policy to uphold “the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children.” The court ruling left unclear how to legally store, transport and use embryos.

Democrats portrayed Alabama’s all-Republican high court as bent on further restricting women’s ability to make choices about reproduction following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that toppled Roe, abolishing women’s constitutional right to abortion.

Republicans faced backlash nationwide, even as some particularly conservative members of the party continued to question IVF procedures.

In Alabama, the Republican-led state legislature passed measures aimed at protecting IVF providers from both criminal charges and civil lawsuits, and the Republican governor quickly signed them into law, prompting Alabama providers who had halted the IVF procedure following the court ruling to resume offering the treatment.

In Washington, Republican senators blocked Democrats’ attempt to guarantee access to IVF treatments, saying the proposal went too far.

In May, Brent Leatherwood, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, wrote U.S. senators to urge more robust oversight of the IVF process.

“A human embryo is a life. This life is as deserving of protection and all the standards of care we would give to a child or an adult,” Leatherwood wrote. “In the post-Roe moment we find ourselves in, we must make the most of this opportunity to stand for life in all its forms.”

Woman pastors

The proposed constitutional change banning women pastors, known as the Law Amendment, had been approved during last year’s annual meeting. By church rules, any such change must be approved at two consecutive annual meetings, and this year it was approved by 61.45 percent of church leaders who voted — short of the two-thirds majority required.

The denomination has in recent annual meetings voted that individual churches that have female leaders were no longer in “friendly cooperation” with the organization, citing the denomination’s doctrine and scriptures as indicating that only men can lead a church.

The over 10,000 church delegates — known as “messengers” — attending the meeting and voting on an array of issues, fell just short of officially changing the SBC’s constitution to assert that a church can only employ “men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by the scripture.”

Individual Baptist churches are largely autonomous, typically locally own their own facilities and make their own decisions on how to worship.