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Longtime, pro-life advocates in SBC rejoice at Roe’s demise

U.S. Supreme Court. Photo by Karen McCutcheon.

NASHVILLE (BP)—Southern Baptists who have advocated for preborn children and their mothers for decades rejoiced at the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of nearly 50 years of nationwide, legalized abortion while acknowledging much work remains.

A day many persistent, pro-life advocates had long sought and prayed for arrived June 24, when the high court overruled its 1973 Roe v. Wade opinion – as well as the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling that affirmed Roe — and returned abortion policy to the states. About half of the 50 states have enacted or are soon expected to enact abortion bans throughout pregnancy or at some stage of pregnancy.

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 opinion in Dobbs v. Mississippi Women’s Health Organization brought an end to an abortion rule established by Roe that cost the lives of more than an estimated 63 million preborn children.

The Southern Baptist Convention provided a leading voice among American religious groups that opposed the abortion regime produced by Roe and advocated for pro-life protections in public policies.  Messengers to the SBC’s annual meetings called for the end of legalized abortion through a series of pro-life resolutions adopted since 1980. This year, messengers approved a resolution that urged the Supreme Court to overturn Roe and Casey and encouraged states to enact pro-life policies.

Among the many Southern Baptists who have prayed and worked for a pro-life America in law and culture, several leaders in the cause offered their reactions to Baptist Press regarding Roe’s reversal. They have advocated for life through such means as leading SBC entities; preaching in churches; teaching in seminaries, universities and colleges; advocating for pro-life policies at the federal and state level; promoting pro-life resolutions at the convention’s annual meeting; writing for publication; and/or serving in and establishing pregnancy resource centers.

Here are the responses provided by those Southern Baptists to the Supreme Court’s monumental decision:

— Richard Land served as president of the Christian Life Commission (CLC), later renamed the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), from 1988 to 2013. Already a long-time, pro-life advocate, Land was the first head of the entity to champion and prioritize the issue on behalf of Southern Baptists. He retired as president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in 2021.

“Now that the prayers of millions of Southern Baptists and other Christians have been answered, and the egregious 1973 Roe v. Wade decision has been pitched onto the ash heap of history, pro-life Christians should do two things,” Land told BP. “First, give praise and honor to our Heavenly Father for giving us this victory. Second, thank all the fellow pro-life Christians you know for their efforts and prayers over the five decades when the Supreme Court substantially took away our right to decide the nation’s law on this most foundational of issues – the sanctity of all human life.

“It has been a long battle for me — I have been pro-life since 1964, when I came into direct contact with a 12- to 14-week-old human fetus being displayed in my high school biology class. This baby was just as human as I was, merely at an earlier stage of development.

“I believe God in His providence provided me with that experience so I would never doubt the full humanity of any human baby. I was physically nauseous when the Roe v. Wade decision was announced in 1973.”

Land said, “I am so grateful that God allowed me to live to see the death of Roe. Now, the real battle begins. The Supreme Court has finally returned this issue to the people where it belongs. Now, we the people need to safeguard the right to life of as many of our fellow citizens as we possibly can. Government ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’ has been restored. May God grant us victory in the struggle to save our unborn.

“I am grateful beyond words to the younger generations of pro-lifers who have pledged to continue the fight until God gives us total victory.”

— Shannon Royce, a life-long Southern Baptist, has served as a pro-life, pro-family advocate in multiple roles in Washington, D.C., for 34 years. Currently president of the Christian Employers Alliance (CEA), she was the ERLC’s legislative counsel and director of government relations for four years, legislative counsel to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, for six years and director of the Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives at the Department of Health and Human Services from 2017 to 2021.

“I am overcome with joy, grateful for the courage and fortitude of the justices, and mindful of the work and ministry before us,” Royce told BP in written comments. “We can and should love both the mother and her unborn child.”

In a written release from CEA, she said, “While there have been significant theatrics and intensified media coverage in recent weeks, the day-to-day reality in our communities remains the same: The unborn need protection, and their mothers need help and hope. 

“We urge Christian business leaders to continue to engage in the work of their local pregnancy care centers through financial and practical supports, and to stand for life in their state legislatures. While society actively seeks the destruction of life, Christians are uniquely equipped to share God’s life-affirming message of hope and healing to all.”

— Larry Lewis was pastor of Tower Grove Baptist Church in St. Louis when he wrote and defended from the platform as a member of the 1980 Resolutions Committee the first pro-life resolution approved by messengers to the SBC’s annual meeting. After his election as president of the Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) in 1987, the board inaugurated the same year under his leadership the Alternatives to Abortion Ministries to help churches and associations establish crisis pregnancy centers.

He is “delighted” the Roe v. Wade ruling has been overturned, Lewis said. “Roe v. Wade is probably the worst decision ever rendered by the [U.S.] Supreme Court, with the possible exception of Dred Scott,” the high court’s 1857 opinion that said free and enslaved Black Americans were not U.S. citizens, he said.

“Never in the history of our republic has any court ever found in the Constitution a right for a mother to kill her children, either born or unborn,” he wrote in a statement for BP.

“Of course, reversing Roe v. Wade doesn’t assure the right to life for the unborn but simply transfers the issue to the states to fashion whatever laws they think appropriate,” Lewis said. “Fortunately, there are several states that will likely prohibit or strictly regulate abortion except for extreme circumstances, such as where the life of the mother is seriously threatened. Unfortunately, many others will freely allow abortions with few or any restrictions.

“[W]e have a ‘fight for life’ on our hands! We must fight hard to assure our state legislatures fashion strong ‘right-to-life’ legislation. We must fight equally as hard against those who will undoubtedly seek to amend the Constitution to assure the right to abort is constitutional. Instead, we should seek to amend the Constitution to assure the right life, already clearly embedded in the Constitution, applies to the unborn as well as to anyone else.”

— Carol Everett was an abortion clinic owner when she was converted to Christ and left the business in 1983. Since going public as a pro-life advocate in 1985, Everett has spoken, written and worked in defense of preborn children and in support of their mothers. A member of a Southern Baptist church for more than 20 years, she founded The Heidi Group in 1995. The Texas-based organization seeks to meet the physical and spiritual needs of women with unplanned pregnancies, especially by starting pregnancy resource centers.

“I just think [Roe’s reversal] is going to touch people in a different way, and I think many people are going to say, ‘What can I do?’ And I think this is not only a safe thing to do. I think it’s a rewarding thing to do for the kingdom,” Everett told BP in a phone interview.

“Since 1973, every generation has thought abortion is legal, i.e. moral, in most cases,” she said. “So we have an education job ahead of us as well as a ministry job.  . . .  And I don’t have the answer to how you reach these people to educate them, but we have to start somewhere. And that’s putting one foot in front of the other and quietly doing it.”

Everett told BP, “It’s like the truth is finally coming out. Honestly, it makes me want to cry because so many people have been wounded. Our country has taken such a terrible direction because of these lies [about the unborn child and abortion].”

Abortion “is a spiritual issue,” she said. The people who are “raging” in response to Roe’s demise are “hurt people. I know many of them had abortions, and they can’t admit that it was wrong. And I want us to stand up with the truth, because the truth wins every single time, and women need to hear the truth. [A]s never before in the 30-something years I have been out of the abortion industry, I want to share Christ with these women, because that’s the real answer to their pain and to their lives and to their futures.”

The Heidi Group has begun focusing on planting pregnancy resource centers in counties without one.

“[M]y goal for the last part of my life is to open pregnancy centers that don’t vary from the evangelistic but stay focused on evangelism,” Everett said, adding, “I think we’ve got an incredible opportunity to get very focused on evangelism and bring people into pregnancy centers, come to Christ and to the church.”

— C. Ben Mitchell has been a leading, pro-life bioethicist among Southern Baptists and evangelical Christians since the 1990s. After serving on the staff of the CLC (later ERLC), he taught as a faculty member of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Union University. Mitchell also served as executive director of The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity. He retired in 2020 as Union University’s Graves professor of moral philosophy.

“Overturning Roe is a good start, but the hard slog continues state by state,” Mitchell said in written remarks. “The long march for the right to life of unborn children is not over, but the journey has taken a decisive turn.

“There will always be more work to do to protect innocent human life, support women with unplanned pregnancies and care for children who need loving families in which to flourish.”

— Lori Bova, chair of the ERLC’s trustees, has been actively involved in the pro-life movement for more than two decades. A member of a Southern Baptist church in New Mexico, Bova is secretary of the board of a local pregnancy resource center, helped start a county Right to Life chapter, previously served on the state Right to Life board and has mentored young women through the congregation’s Embrace Grace ministry.

“After advocating for life for over 20 years, I rejoice God has answered our collective prayers,” Bova said in written comments. “With the Court striking down both Roe and Casey, an egregious wrong has been righted.

“Even with this victory, our focus does not change. Thousands of pro-life people, like me, will continue in the same work we were doing yesterday — advocating for the preborn, serving mothers and families, and fostering a true culture of life in our communities.”