Two weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) vs. Becerra, setting in motion what promises to be a landmark case for the rights of pro-life and faith-based healthcare entities.
Central to the case is the state of California‚Äôs decree that pregnancy resource centers (sometimes called crisis pregnancy centers) ‚ÄĒ which, by their very nature, exist to empower women and families to reject the violence of abortion and make informed, life-affirming choices for their preborn child ‚ÄĒ must give free advertising for abortion providers.
The controversial California state law requires these facilities to post a placard informing visitors that, ‚ÄúCalifornia has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services, prenatal care and abortion for eligible women‚ÄĚ (emphasis mine).
As Baptists, we should be paying close attention to the outcome. The case not only has sweeping implications for free speech ‚ÄĒ as it would compel these clinics to amplify a message they fundamentally disagree with ‚ÄĒ but it also carries consequences for our ‚Äúfirst freedom‚ÄĚ of religious liberty.
While one need not be a person of faith to recognize the humanity of the unborn ‚ÄĒ increasingly, science is making our case for us ‚ÄĒ these clinics are often faith-based 501(c)(3) organizations with a gospel-focused mission and a staff who operate from a deeply-held Jeremiah 1:5 pro-life ethic.
Staff at pregnancy resource centers serve as the hands and feet of Jesus to vulnerable mothers and fathers-to-be by offering parenting courses, adoption referrals, confidential testing, diapers, formula, and other resources to meet expectant parents‚Äô physical, emotional, and spiritual needs ‚ÄĒ usually for no cost.
For many who are called to this work, doing the bidding of an industry that profits off the destruction of God‚Äôs youngest, most defenseless image-bearers would violate the core tenets of their faith.
Reading the tea leaves from the oral argument, it appears the Supreme Court could be inclined to agree and, today, we have reason to hold high hope that the court will rule favorably for pregnancy resource centers and the precious lives they seek to protect. Whatever the outcome, however, Baptists like me will have to reconcile it with the knowledge that we weren‚Äôt represented in the debate.
Twenty-two states, a bipartisan roster of 144 members of Congress, 13 inspiring women served by pregnancy centers writing on behalf of the Catholic Association Foundation, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the Southern Baptist Convention‚Äôs Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission ‚ÄĒ among others ‚ÄĒ all weighed in to defend pregnancy resource centers from unjust attack and affirm the God-given worth of the unborn children saved by their efforts.
But for many of us in other Baptist circles, we weren‚Äôt on record.
The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, supported by more than a dozen Baptist bodies, has not commented on the matter. Given its disappointing stance in Zubik vs. Burwell, however, where it supported the Obama administration‚Äôs efforts to require groups like Little Sisters of the Poor to provide insurance coverage for what they deemed to be abortion-inducing drugs, this could be for the better.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has also been mum on this and other sanctity of life issues. The Fellowship is known to lean against issuing position statements on controversial social topics, yet it has rightly weighed in to protect DREAMers in the face of this administration‚Äôs callous actions, to nobly defend a judge with deeply held convictions opposing the death penalty, to pursue racial reconciliation in our communities, and to foster greater inclusion in its hiring practices through the admirable work of its Illumination Project.
These pursuits were just and sorely needed ‚ÄĒ but if the church found its voice then why can‚Äôt we speak out for those who cannot yet speak now?
If our Baptist churches decry the scourge of gun violence, if we speak boldly against unjust travel bans, if we stand with immigrants against thinly-veiled bigoted rhetoric from the highest levels of power, but have nothing to say of the more than 650,000 girls and boys created by God with divine purpose who, each year, see their lives cut short in the womb, our light grows a little dimmer and a gaping blind spot in our ethic is blown wide open for a watching world to see.
When it comes to the Baptist approach to matters of life and protections for this most marginalized population of human beings, it is time to talk because our silence is deafening.