Conservative groups including the Southern Baptist Convention say a law regulating abortion clinics is beneficial for women’s health, while individuals aligned with the moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and progressive Alliance of Baptists say a woman’s religious views — not those of legislators — is what matters in reproductive choice.
Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists joined hands in a Feb. 3 legal brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold a 2013 Texas law regulating abortion.
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and the 2,500-church Southern Baptists of Texas Convention joined the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Texas Catholic Conference in asking the high court to recognize the state’s right to enforce standards relating to the qualifications of physicians who perform abortions and the conditions of facilities in which abortion is performed.
The Texas law requires that abortion doctors have admitting privileges in a nearby hospital and for abortions to be performed in hospital-like settings known as ambulatory surgical centers. Opponents say those restrictions are medically unnecessary and if upheld by the Supreme Court will reduce the number of abortion clinics operating in Texas from 40 when the law was passed to 10.
Joined by the National Association of Evangelicals and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the faith groups claim there is ample evidence that admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical center requirements protect women’s lives and health.
The brief points to the example of Kermit Gosnell, a former doctor convicted in 2013 of murdering three infants who were born alive during attempted abortions and involuntary manslaughter in the drug-overdose death of a 41-year-old woman who came to him for treatment.
“The abortion lobby’s resistance to common-sense accountability measures should alarm everyone, on both sides of the political aisle,” ERLC President Russell Moore said in comments quoted by Baptist Press. “Abortion activists have claimed for years that protecting women from harm is their primary goal, but they are certainly on the wrong side of women’s health on this issue.”
The ERLC document is one of 45 friend-of-the-court briefs by both anti-abortion and abortion-rights advocates in the case set for oral argument March 2. A Jan. 4 brief by parties including Baptist-affiliated Judson Memorial Church in New York City asks the Supreme Court to “preserve a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy in accordance with her own personal or religious conscience by rejecting Texas’ unduly burdensome restrictions on that right.”
Judson — aligned with the Alliance of Baptists, United Church of Christ and American Baptist Churches, USA — has been involved since the 1960s and 1970s in helping women, especially the poor, to obtain medically safe abortions.
Donna Schaper, Judson’s current senior minister, recently defended Planned Parenthood against attacks by an anti-abortion group using secretly recorded interviews, saying folks on the Religious Right “are having a hard time dealing with women as moral agents and as adults.”
Along with groups including the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, the Judson Memorial brief argues that “any genuine efforts to protect the health and well-being of women seeking abortions must aim to increase the accessibility and affordability of safe abortion care.”
They say Texas House Bill No. 2, imposes “medically unnecessary requirements that unduly burden and, in many cases, would frustrate women’s constitutional rights to terminate a pregnancy.”
Numerous individuals signed onto the brief. Names include Marie Allen, a member of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship-affiliated Lake Shore Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, and Jorene Taylor Swift, minister of congregational care at CBF-aligned Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas.
Larry Bethune, senior pastor of University Baptist Church in Austin, a church kicked out of the Baptist General Convention of Texas in 1988 and now aligned primarily with American Baptist Churches, USA, joined the brief asking the Supreme Court to strike down the Texas abortion law.
So did Marvin Marsh, a retired American Baptist pastor in Pennsylvania honored by Planned Parenthood in 2014; Isabel Docampo, a professor at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology and member of the Alliance of Baptists; and Miguel De La Torre, professor of social ethics and Latino/a studies at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver who got his M.Div. at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and lists his religious affiliation as “Southern Baptist” in the Supreme Court brief.
The ERLC, the Southern Baptist Convention entity tasked with public policy and religious liberty concerns, recently convened its first Evangelicals for Life event, aimed at boosting evangelical participation in the annual March for Life abortion protest previously populated mostly by Catholics opposed to the procedure.
“I don’t want anybody fewer who are singing ‘Ave Maria,’” Moore said in 2014, “but we need a lot more who are singing ‘Amazing Grace’ there at the March for Life.”