Southern Baptists Vote to Oppose Use of I.V.F. - The World News

Southern Baptists Vote to Oppose Use of I.V.F.

Southern Baptists voted on Wednesday to oppose the use of in vitro fertilization. The vote was an indication that ordinary evangelicals are increasingly open to arguments that equate embryos with human life, and that two years after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, “fetal personhood” may be the next front for the anti-abortion movement.

More than 10,000 delegates, called “messengers,” have gathered in Indianapolis for the denomination’s annual meeting, which is closely watched as a barometer of evangelical sentiment on a variety of cultural and political issues. The vote on Wednesday was the first time that attendees at the Southern Baptist meeting have addressed the ethics of in vitro fertilization directly. In 2021, the group passed a resolution declaring “unequivocally that abortion is murder.”

The resolution proposed on Wednesday 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, especially in the number of embryos generated in the I.V.F. process.”

A vast majority of the delegates oppose abortion, but fertility treatments are widely used by evangelicals. Although the process of in vitro fertilization often results in the destruction of unused embryos, many Southern Baptists see that as fundamentally different from abortion because the goal of fertility treatment is to create new life.

With almost 13 million church members across the United States, the Southern Baptist Convention has long been a bellwether for American evangelicalism. Its reliably conservative membership makes the denomination a powerful political force, and its debates this year have attracted widespread interest from outside commentators and politicians.

Last month, the head of the denomination’s public policy arm sent a letter to the U.S. Senate asking legislators to clamp down on in vitro fertilization, stating that the practice harms children and women, who may be unaware of “complications and moral concerns.”

The resolution affirmed on Wednesday is not a ban and will have no binding impacts on families in Southern Baptist churches who are pursuing fertility treatments. The amendment expresses empathy for couples experiencing infertility, and affirms that all children are a gift from God, no matter the circumstances of their conception.

But its adoption sends a strong message on evangelical sentiment around in vitro fertilization, months after an Alabama Supreme Court justice ruled that under the state’s laws, frozen embryos are to be considered children.

That ruling sparked an immediate backlash, including from many Republicans. The Alabama Legislature quickly passed a bill to protect in vitro fertilization providers in the state, and Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Katie Britt of Alabama introduced federal legislation intending to protect the procedure.

The authors of the Southern Baptist resolution acknowledged that the issue is divisive even among strongly anti-abortion Christians, and that Republicans have leaped to preserve access to fertility treatments.

“I want to do more than nudge Republicans who are against us on this. I want to call them out for their error and inconsistency,” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said in an interview one day before the vote.

Mr. Mohler submitted the resolution with Andrew T. Walker, an associate professor of Christian ethics and public theology at the same school.

Hours earlier, Baptists rejected a move to crack down on congregations with women in pastoral leadership. The vote dealt an unexpected rebuke to a hard-right faction that has been jockeying for influence in the country’s largest Protestant denomination.

The amendment would have added language to the denomination’s constitution saying that “only men” could be affirmed or employed “as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.” The amendment’s language echoes the Southern Baptist statement of faith, but opponents warned that it was unnecessary and risked alienating and punishing churches that broadly align with Southern Baptist values.

This is a developing news story. Check back for updates.

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