Friday, September 30, 2022

The history of Southern Baptists shows that they did not always oppose abortion

With an abortion case now before the U.S. Supreme Court, the Southern Baptist Convention of June 2022 encouraged its members to pray for the overthrow of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion in the US.

However, the resolution, “On Anticipation of a Historic Moment in the Pro-Life Movement,” was not without controversy. A faction of Southern Baptists who see themselves as “abortion abolitionists” argued that the Convention should also call for the criminalization of people who undergo abortions as murderers. Instead, the resolution calls on Southern Baptists to stand together and pray for “abortion-vulnerable women.”

The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, and often referred to as the “bellwether for conservative Christianity”, has long spoken out against abortion. A Pew survey in 2014 found that two-thirds of Southern Baptists believe that abortion should be illegal in most or all cases. In 2021, the Convention adopted a resolution declaring “unequivocally that abortion is murder” and calling for “abortion to be abolished immediately, without exception or compromise.”

But Southern Baptists were not always opposed to abortion.

The Convention in some cases expressed support for abortion during the 1970s, until a more conservative wing took control in the 1980s. I was a Southern Baptist at the time, and I’m now studying the denomination. I understand the Convention’s position against abortion as a reflection of leaders’ conservative beliefs about women, gender and sexuality.

Abortion support

Early on, many evangelicals, including Southern Baptists, saw opposition to legal abortion as a “Catholic issue.”

a 1970 survey by the Baptist Sunday School Board found that a majority of Southern Baptist pastors supported abortion in a number of cases, including when the woman’s mental or physical health was at risk or in the case of rape or fetal malformation. .

The SBC adopted its first resolution on abortion two years before the Roe decision. While the Convention never supported a woman’s right to abortion at her request for any reason, the resolution did recognize the need for legislation that would allow certain exceptions.

In fact, many Southern Baptists saw the Roe decision as an essential line between church and state on matters of morality and state regulation. A Baptist Press article a few days after the decision called it a promotion of religious freedom, human equality and justice.

The Convention ratified this resolution in 1974 after Roe’s decision. A 1976 resolution condemned abortion as ‘a means of birth control’, but still insisted that the decision ultimately remain between a woman and her doctor.

A 1977 resolution clarified the Convention’s position and reaffirmed its “strong opposition to abortion on demand”. However, it also reaffirmed the Convention’s views on the limited role of government and the right of pregnant women to medical services and counseling. This decision was ratified again in 1979.

Fetus as a person

Later that year, however, when an ultra-conservative faction within the denomination gained the power of more moderate leaders, things began to change.

From 1980 onwards, Convention resolutions took a hard turn against abortion access. A “Resolution on Abortion” stated “that abortion ends the life of a developing human being” and called for legal measures “that prohibit abortion other than saving the life of the mother.”

Another interesting shift took place in that resolution. Instead of referring to “fetal life”, as previous decisions did, the 1980 resolution called fetuses “unborn” or “prenatal” human life or “persons”. This language shift made a significant change to the status of the fetus. It was no longer a developing organism that was dependent on a woman’s body, but rather a full-fledged human being with the same status and human rights as the women. A 1984 resolution called a fetus “a living individual human being.”

Since then, the Convention has adopted another 16 resolutions against abortion, including opposition to abortion pills, “partial-birth-abortion” – an anti-choice political phrase rather than a medical term for a later term abortion involving withdrawal of the fetus by the birth canal – the inclusion of abortion in federally funded health care and the use of aborted fetal tissue in research.

Control of women’s bodies

The SBC’s resolutions focus on the fetus, but they also illustrate the Convention’s beliefs about gender, in particular how women and their bodies should be subordinate to men.

A brick building that says Southern Baptist Convention.
The Southern Baptist Convention is headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.
Associated Press Photo / Mark Humphrey

From 1980, resolutions waived exceptions for rape, incest, or mental trauma for abortion. The only acceptable case for abortion for Southern Baptists became “the impending death of the mother.” A statement of views from 2005 made it clear: “At the moment of conception, a new being enters the universe, a human being, created in the image of God. This person deserves our protection, regardless of the circumstances of conception. ”

A 1986 resolution linked abortion to sinful sexuality. The resolution called on parents to educate their children about a “Christian understanding” of sexuality as a way to avoid unplanned pregnancies, and the resolution also opposed abortion as “unscriptural” and harmful to the mother . A 1987 resolution called for the teaching of abstinence in schools as the “best and only sure way to prevent crisis pregnancies”.

In 2003, a resolution on abortion co-opted the language of the women’s movement around the Roe v. Wade decision to call “an act of injustice against innocent unborn children as well as against vulnerable women in crisis pregnancy situations”. The resolution continued to blame the “sexual revolution” and a “profitable abortion industry” for the victimization of women. Instead, it promoted anti-choice legislation as a means “to protect women and children from abortion,” and it offered prayers, love, and advocacy for “women and men abused by abortion.”

Resolutions also called for women to be given information on fetal development, and the Convention’s Commission on Ethics and Religious Freedom created “The Psalm 139 Project” to provide ultrasound machines to crisis pregnancy centers so they could show women images of their fetuses to abort them. to discourage. .

Crisis pregnancy centers are primarily evangelical organizations that provide counseling and assistance in convincing pregnant people not to have abortions. They often provide misleading and false information, and often receive large sums of public money with little public oversight.

The 2003 resolution also called on the government to “act to protect the lives of women and children.”

Fifty years ago, the Convention’s view of abortion was led by concerns about the government’s intrusion into a private matter between a woman and her healthcare provider. Today, the Convention fully embraces government control of a woman’s decisions on reproduction.

Nation World News Desk
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