Southern Baptists condemn use of IVF in high-profile debate over reproductive rights

INDIANAPOLIS — Southern Baptists on Wednesday condemned the use of in vitro fertilization in a proclamation that will add to the intense debates over reproductive rights raging across the U.S.

Southern Baptist Convention delegates, known as messengers, at this year's annual meeting here in Indianapolis approved a resolution criticizing IVF, a non-binding proclamation that could help popularize an idea once considered fringe throughout American Christianity.

The resolution calls on Southern Baptists to only support reproductive technologies that affirm the "unconditional value and right to life of every human being, including those in an embryonic stage."

The resolution reinforces an increasingly popular stance among anti-abortion groups in the wake of an Alabama Supreme Court ruling in February. The court said frozen embryos are legally considered children and are protected under the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act, a ruling that sparked national debate.

Debate on the floor of the convention over the resolution exhibited divisions within the nation’s largest Protestant denomination over the issue. The statement is the first of its kind for the SBC but could reverberate across other conservative denominations.

“This resolution would castigate and condemn the entirely moral and ethical actions of these two friends of mine calling their faithful sacrifice, struggle and blessing a wicked thing,” Michigan messenger Daniel Taylor said during the floor debate, alluding to friends who used IVF to have children. "It would also unnecessarily make it more difficult for all of us to reach those who have gone through IVF as parents or children."

Taylor proposed an amendment to the resolution to soften certain language. Messengers overwhelmingly voted against the amendment, leading to a vote immediately after to adopt the resolution in its original form.

Kentucky messenger Monica Hall spoke against Taylor's amendment, referencing her own experience with embryo adoption. Hall said the embryos were left over by someone else who started the IVF process and that the embryos ultimately didn't reach viability.

"There is no way to describe the treatment of embryos at any point in the IVF process as ethical or dignified," Hall said during the floor debate. "Nothing in the process of IVF upholds the sanctity of life."

The resolutions committee recommended the full convention adopt the statement after receiving a draft authored by Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Southern seminary professor Andrew Walker.

Mohler, a leading contemporary evangelical Christian voice in the U.S., has opposed IVF for two decades and has cited what he views as other potentially problematic components, such as how IVF can allow same-sex couples or a single woman to have children.

“In our churches, we have compromise on this issue,” said Mohler during an address at a luncheon Monday ahead of the convention's expected vote on the resolution. "A lot of evangelicals don’t want to state the proposition clearly.”

Many conservatives, even those who oppose abortion, have supported IVF and how it has allowed countless Americans to start families who might otherwise be unable to do so. In the wake of the Alabama court's rulings, many in the GOP voiced their support and state lawmakers approved a legislative fix to protect IVF providers.

About 2% of births a year involve IVF, a process by which multiple eggs are harvested, fertilized and implanted to create a pregnancy. The Alabama ruling and the stance by the SBC raise questions about what should happen with unused embryos.

A Pew Research Center report in May said 63% of white evangelical Protestants believe IVF is good and 28% were unsure. The percentages were similar those of Catholics, a religious group that is more well-known for opposing IVF and surrogacy.

A woman raises her hand in praise during the Southern Baptist Convention, Tuesday, June 11, 2024 at the Indiana Convention Center.
A woman raises her hand in praise during the Southern Baptist Convention, Tuesday, June 11, 2024 at the Indiana Convention Center.

The SBC's resolution contends that IVF "most often engages in the destruction of embryonic human life and increasingly engages in dehumanizing methods for determining suitability for life."

It calls on Southern Baptists to "advocate for the government to restrain actions inconsistent with the dignity and value of every human being, which necessarily includes frozen embryonic human beings."

The debate on Wednesday echoed one from two years ago, when the convention fought over Southern Baptists' commitment to pro-life ideals. Opposition conservatives supported an abolitionist anti-abortion stance that supports charging women with crimes for having abortions. Proponents of the abolitionist stance decried Southern Baptists who align with an incrementalist anti-abortion view as insufficiently pro-life.

The 2022 SBC annual meeting also included an ultimately unsuccessful push to abolish the denomination’s public policy arm, the Nashville-based Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, for rejecting abolitionist proposals.

But with IVF, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission drew a line in the sand in a May 24 letter urging Congress to limit access and funding for the medical procedure.

A similar attempt to abolish the public policy arm at this year's SBC annual meeting failed on Wednesday morning.

Liam Adams covers religion for The Tennessean. Reach him at ladams@tennessean.com or on social media @liamsadams.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: SBC: Southern Baptists condemn use of in vitro fertilization