By Bob Allen
The Baptist General Convention of Texas lobbied for a newly passed law restricting abortion that was delayed by a filibuster by a state senator honored last year by the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission for her work against predatory lending.
Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill July 18 being described as one of the nation’s strictest abortion laws. The bill was hotly debated, including an 11-hour filibuster by state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) in June that made national headlines.
Early in the legislative process BGCT Executive Director David Hardage wrote legislators supporting a ban on abortion after 20 weeks, raising licensure standards for abortion facilities and strengthening regulations on administering drugs that induce abortion.
“Texas Baptists have had a consistent and clear position regarding the morality of abortion,” Hardage wrote. “Abortion is inconsistent with Christian practice and should be avoided. Scripture is clear that each person is created in God’s image and abortion as birth control is not compatible with the call of the gospel to reverence life.”
The Baptist Standard reported July 19 that a portion of Hardage’s letter was read on the Senate floor by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville), the only Democrat to vote for the bill approved by the Republican-controlled Senate by a 19-11 vote on July 12.
Texas is the 12th state to ban most abortions after 20 weeks, a new benchmark based on debated medical findings that the fetus at that point is capable of feeling pain. Observers say the main impact of the new Texas law will be the closing of licensed health clinics, which now must meet standards equivalent to ambulatory surgical centers in order to perform abortions.
Currently five of 42 existing abortion clinics meet the new requirement, and clinic owners say they cannot afford to upgrade or relocate. Shortly after Perry signed the bill into law, Planned Parenthood announced the closing of three facilities, reducing the number statewide from 20 to 17, citing budget cuts to women’s health in a previous legislative session. Just one of the three does abortions.
Texas Baptists have passed resolutions over the years opposing abortion but have been less active in the organized pro-life movement than their counterparts in the Southern Baptist Convention, reciting the Christian Life Commission philosophy of “speaking to Texas Baptists, not for them.”
A 1980 BGCT resolution supported legislation prohibiting abortion except to save the life of the mother or in cases of incest or rape. A 1986 resolution opposed abortion “as a means of birth control.” In 1997 the BGCT condemned “partial-birth” abortion and in 1998 supported laws requiring parental consent 48 hours before any abortion could be performed on a minor child.
A CLC policy statement reaffirmed in 1999 said: “Aborting a developing life should be regarded as an extreme act undertaken only under extreme circumstances. Reverence for the life of the mother helps to define these circumstances. The most obvious case is the pregnancy which threatens the mother’s physical survival. Other cases in which abortion might be contemplated include pregnancies which result from rape or incest.”
The statement said abortion might also be considered in cases of severe and chronic mental illness and pregnancies involving fetal deformity and disease. In rare cases, the statement said, “abortion might be chosen as the lesser of tragedies.”
In his letter to state lawmakers, Hardage said Texas Baptists “strive to consistently and clearly advocate for policies that protect life at all stages and promote the common good of Texans regardless of their faith convictions.”
“Texas Baptists support policies that result in the reduction of abortion, including through comprehensive sex education and the availability of maternal, prenatal and children’s health (including the CHIP program),” he wrote. “State policies should seek to prevent crisis pregnancies and help to lessen the burden for a family that makes the decision to carry a child to term and not abandon them in a time of great need.”
Ferrell Foster, director of ethics and justice for the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, wrote an article July 9 saying the CLC received questions after Davis’ filibuster about why the commission honored her with its Horizon Award in 2012.
“The CLC honored Sen. Davis last year for her support of various issues that are important to Texas Baptists, including opposition to predatory lending practices,” Foster explained. “The senator from Fort Worth has been vital to the legislative effort to limit immoral payday and auto-title lending practices, which are devastating thousands of lives in our state.”
“The reality of working on public policy issues in Austin is that specific senators and representatives side with us on some issues and disagree with us on others,” Foster continued. “In our dealings with all elected officials we seek to be clear, truthful and respectful whether or not an official agrees with us. This is one of the reasons the CLC has a great deal of influence in Austin; legislators trust us and respect us, though they do not always agree with us.”
“It would not be wise for Texas Baptists to make one issue the most important issue and sacrifice all of our other legislative concerns,” Foster said. “Since life is sacred, we work hard to bring that understanding of life to bear on a wide range of issues. In other words, just as we value the life of a child in a mother’s womb, we also value that child after it is born and in need of nutrition, education and security. And this sanctity of life does not end with childhood; we continue to value people throughout the life process, including their final years.”