Editor’s note: Sunday, Jan. 22 is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention.
WASHINGTON (BP) – The defeat of Roe v. Wade allows a broader focus on life outside the womb, a foster care and adoption leader told Baptist Press.
Concurrently, shifting the pro-life legislation fight to the state level has changed the way advocacy for unborn life must be conducted, said Herbie Newell, president and director of Lifeline Children’s Services, a Gospel-based pregnancy care, adoption and foster care agency with offices in 17 states.
Overturning the national law was necessary, but came as advocates sometimes overlooked needs related to foster care, adoption and other life issues, Newell said.
“We did it at the neglect of kids in foster care. We did it at the neglect of orphans, and the 153 million orphans in our world,” he told Baptist Press as he prepared to speak at the inaugural meeting of Stand for Life Jan. 18-19 in Washington. “Even in our country we have many individuals who are living with special needs. Families that are raising kids with severe special needs or disabilities.
“And I love the opportunity right now to even reshape the prolife message to say, again, this is not just about defeating abortion. This is about showing the world that we really believe that life – no matter what ailment, no matter what disability, no matter what circumstance – all life is made in the image of God and bears the image of its Creator.”
Children must be protected as image-bearers of God made in His image, Newell said.
“And I hope and I pray that the prolife movement will become so much more broad that we’ll also really step in and talk about racial injustice. We’ll talk about what we see with those that are hurting,” Newell said. “We’ll talk about the sex trafficking industry around the world and say it’s not right.
“It’s not prolife to turn a blind eye when women and children are being trafficked around the world. It’s not prolife to see injustice happening around us, because when we see life, we should see the image of our Creator.”
Lifeline, based in Birmingham, Ala., has seen more women choose life through Lifeline since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June 2022. More expectant mothers are accessing Lifeline’s services and seeking help.
Interest in Lifeline’s services increased about 45 percent in 2022 over 2021, Lifeline’s figures show, with 742 women seeking help in 2022 compared to 512 in 2021. Lifeline conducted 307 face-to-face visits with expectant mothers in 2022, a 62 percent increase over the 189 visits conducted in 2021. Lifeline counseled women in more than 30 states and placed 75 children in homes through domestic adoption last year. It also is serving an influx of families wanting to adopt.
Expectant mothers must be encouraged earlier in their pregnancies to choose life, and varying laws among the states require more educational resources for women to navigate the landscape. Abortifacient drugs are being used more widely post-Roe, Newell said, and many states are more aggressively promoting chemical abortions.
“We see lots of different policy changes, law changes, that are happening on the local level and in states,” he said. “I think that has actually created even confusion for women in crisis pregnancy situations, some for the good and some for the bad.
“There are a lot of women in states I would say are more aggressive in their abortion stance, like New York, Illinois and California. There are certainly women in those states that think abortion is unattainable, even though they live in a state where abortions are readily available. I think we’ve also seen a huge influx of chemical abortions in all 50 states.”
Lifeline is addressing the changing landscape by placing counselors in major cities in the states they’re licensed to work. Lifeline’s Worthy program – a 10-session, Gospel-centered program teaching women their worth, the value of the child in their womb and their opportunities for livelihood – is already available in at least 20 states, and it is recruiting churches to participate in the program.
Among the 1,200 churches that partner with Lifeline, more than 100 have already signed up to participate in Worthy, Newell said, with registration information available here).
“We need to make sure that we’re reaching women at the moment that they find out they’re pregnant,” he said, “or even when they just have an inkling they might be pregnant. The decision periods for women are so much shorter, that we’ve got to make sure that we are giving them good information about life, helping them choose life and helping them to know that to choose life … gives them many options.”
Options include parenting, interim care to allow parents to stabilize their lives before the child comes into the home, marriage, connecting with extended family members or placing children in adoption.
“We want to help them understand all the life options,” he said, “but certainly, especially in states like a Georgia, or a Mississippi or a Texas, where there are heartbeat bills or 15-week decisions.
“The timeframe a woman has to choose life really has shrunk.”
In addition to Alabama, Lifeline is licensed in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming. Lifeline also places adoptions and serves foster children internationally.
Newell wants prolife advocacy to address the issues that can lead to children being separated from their parents and create the need for fostering, such as abuse, economic poverty, the lack of stable support systems that Newell describes as relational poverty.
“For many of the families that have lost kids to foster care, the job they lost was the greatest job they’ve ever had,” Newell said. “And they don’t have a community of support that’s going to help them get on their feet and get that next job.
“What we see the local church doing, in a very tangible way for these families, is providing community, providing accountability, providing a cheerleader, providing an exit ramp, so to say, out of relational poverty.”