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ERLC’s goal on abortion: Illegal but also ‘unnecessary and unthinkable’

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NASHVILLE (BP) – The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is aiming for more than the reversal of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that legalized abortion nationwide. It wants a post-Roe world in which abortion is “unnecessary and unthinkable.”

The ERLC has begun using that phrase – “unnecessary and unthinkable” – increasingly as the United States nears the 50th anniversary of the Roe decision in January 2023. That opinion invalidated all state bans of the procedure and established in this country one of the most permissive abortion regimes in the world.

Now the Supreme Court’s agreement to rule this term on a Mississippi law prohibiting abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy has given foes of Roe hope the justices will overturn or at least gut that decision. The ERLC has joined other pro-life organizations in a friend-of-the-court brief urging the high court not only to uphold the state ban but to reverse Roe and a 1992 opinion, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, that affirmed the 1973 ruling.

If Roe were to go, however, abortion would not be outlawed in the country, only returned to the jurisdiction of the states, where it rested before the 1973 ruling. The result would be a patchwork in which abortion would be prohibited in some states and legal in others. Were Roe to be reversed, 22 states currently have laws that could prohibit abortion, and 15 states and the District of Columbia have laws that would protect abortion rights, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research organization.

“We need to make abortion illegal, but we need to make it unnecessary and unthinkable,” Elizabeth Graham told the ERLC’s trustees at their annual meeting Sept. 15. Graham is the commission’s vice president of operations and life initiatives.

For Graham and the ERLC, that means helping prepare churches for a post-Roe age.

“We want to equip the church to stand for life, serve vulnerable mothers and families in crisis, and project a clear witness to a watching world about the undeniable dignity and immeasurable worth of every human person,” Graham said Thursday (Sept. 30) in written comments for Baptist Press.

“While we are committed to ending abortion legally, we aren’t stopping there,” she said. “We want it to be both unnecessary and unthinkable. In other words, we want it to be unnecessary because mothers and families have access to the support they need from churches to know they can choose life. The systemic roots of why women choose abortion must be addressed in order to make abortion unnecessary.

“We want it to be unthinkable because we will have become a society where women no longer feel like they have to listen to the lies of the predatory abortion industry that tells them they must choose between their own future and their own child.”

The ERLC truly believes the day when abortion is “unnecessary and unthinkable,” Graham said, is “drawing nearer, and we want the church to be fully equipped and ready to serve mothers, fathers, preborn babies and children. In the coming months, we will be announcing exciting new events, resourcing tools, programming and assets that will help pastors and pro-life Christians prepare for this exciting future.”

In their research, Graham and her ERLC colleagues recognized a need to help prepare churches for a post-Roe world. In the various surveys studied, they said their findings included:

  • 62 percent of women who have had an abortion said they are “religiously affiliated” (Guttmacher);
  • 36 percent of women were attending a Christian church at least once a month when they had their first abortion (Lifeway Research/Care Net);
  • 76 percent of women said the church had no influence on their decision to have an abortion (Lifeway/Care Net);
  • 76 percent of women who were planning to abort said they would prefer to parent if they were in better circumstances on such matters as affordable housing, health care, job placement and paid family leave (Human Coalition).

Part of the ERLC’s effort to equip churches will be the Road to Roe50, a collaborative, pro-life effort for which the commission is playing a leading role. The Road to Roe50 initiative will include aged-based curriculum, a multi-stop tour in the fall of 2022, a Washington, D.C., event in January 2023 and a digital campaign to affirm the value of human life, as well as train and mobilize Christians to serve mothers, unborn children and families.

“The purpose of Roe50 is to inspire, educate and activate the church to support and defend the dignity of each human person,” Graham said at the ERLC trustees meeting.

Meanwhile, the ERLC intends to continue its attempts to advance the pro-life cause through such work as public policy advocacy at the federal and state level, as well as the Psalm 139 Project, its ministry to help provide ultrasound technology to pro-life pregnancy centers. The ERLC’s goal is to make 50 ultrasound machine placements from December 2020 to January 2023.

“The toll that abortion has taken on our society is undeniable both in terms of lives lost and the devaluing of the human person,” Graham told BP. “It has harmed women, preborn babies and created a culture of death. Over 60 million preborn lives have been lost since the disastrous landmark Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion a permanent fixture in American culture – creating a void that will never be filled in countless families and communities around the country.

“This reality is what drives our passion about the work we do.”