Editor’s note: Sunday (Jan. 16) is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention. Resources for churches are available here.
ESTILL, S.C. (BP) – Ashley Lawton learned early in life that she was adopted. While that discovery was somewhat unsettling, the later revelation that her birth mother had been a victim of rape was much more disconcerting.
“It was hard having someone tell you that they’re not your biological mother and father – but my parents were amazing, and they loved me dearly and guided me as best they could through it all,” Lawton recalled. “It wasn’t really until high school that I learned the whole story.”
She doesn’t exactly remember what led up to her conversation with her mother that day.
“My mom and I were driving down Haywood Road in Greenville and something came on the radio,” Lawton recalled. “I looked at my mom and I said, ‘Mom, I just can’t imagine somebody being raped, and then becoming pregnant and having to carry that child.’”
Her mother’s reply took her off guard: “Well, Ashley, honey, your birth mother was raped.’”
Time seemed to stand still.
“Everything was in slow motion,” Lawton said. “I remember looking out the window, and all I could think, all I could hear in the back of my mind was, ‘You’re a product of evil. You were never meant to be.’”
Although she was a believer, Lawton wasn’t strong in her faith as a teen.
“At that time, those words were powerful and resonated with me, and they stuck with me for years,” she said.
“It wasn’t really until later as I continued to seek God’s voice that those words started to dissipate, and I realized whose I was and who truly loved me. All of that led me to understanding God’s plan for all life – and that it wasn’t just life that is convenient or planned that is important, that is worthy of life. It’s all life!”
God has a plan for every single living being from the moment it is conceived – and actually even before then, Lawton said, citing Jeremiah 1:5.
Today, Lawton’s is the pastor’s wife at Lawtonville Baptist Church in Estill, S.C., where her husband Asbury has served as pastor since 2019. They have been married almost 19 years and have two children, Quinn, 12, and Katie Beth, 6.
A graduate of Southern Wesleyan University, Lawton serves on the board of Personhood Carolina, which advocates pro-life legislation. At Lawtonville Baptist, she sings in the choir, plays handbells, teaches youth in Sunday school, leads a youth Bible study on Sunday evenings and a Youth on Mission group on Wednesday evenings, and also helps in the church office.
“Though my conception was not the ideal situation, God still had a plan for me. He still knew that I was going to be conceived that day. He still knew that He could use me to do whatever He needed me to do, provided that I was willing to submit – and I pray that I’m doing that,” she said. “This is His story that He gave to me, and so I try to make sure He gets all the credit for it all the time.”
In addition to her advocacy work with Personhood Carolina, Lawton also works with Save The 1, an international organization that represents hard cases, such as those conceived in rape, incest, gang-related activities, sex trafficking and other tragic situations.
To fellow Christians who are seeking to reach out to women who might be considering having an abortion, Lawton has counsel: “Foremost, you have to share the love of Jesus. You have to let them know that it wasn’t their fault, and that God still loves them no matter what, and they are much, much stronger than people give them credit for being.
“It’s a tough thing when a woman goes through a crisis situation, and she feels pressured to ‘just do away with it and move forward,’” she said. “But what happens is, that beautiful woman who has been violated has the abortion, and then later – once she’s over the trauma of the rape – has to deal with the trauma of knowing that she ended a life through that abortion.”
Instead, she can choose to see something beautiful come from such a horrible situation, Lawton said. “She can see that life born and brought into the world as a beautiful creation, and find healing through that. …
“I was adopted, and my parents tried desperately to be able to have a child of their own and couldn’t. By my birth mother being brave enough to give me life and then to give me up, this other couple – my parents – were able to complete their family.
“I was conceived in rape. It was a horrible, evil act upon my birth mother. She was physically and emotionally violated. But I didn’t deserve the death penalty. I was an innocent life. I thank God that my birth mother valued life enough to give me life.”