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Southern Baptists to debate measure opposing IVF following Alabama court ruling

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To bolster an even more conservative stance on the definition of life among a key evangelical Christian constituency, the Southern Baptist Convention will take up a resolution opposing in vitro fertilization, or IVF.

The proposed measure comes on the heels of a pivotal Alabama Supreme Court ruling that frozen embryos are legally protected as children, a decision that set off a nationwide political debate due to its potential impact on abortion laws. The Alabama decision received praise from anti-abortion groups who have pushed for the definition of life as beginning at conception.

The Nashville-based SBC's vote on the IVF resolution at the denomination's annual meeting in Indianapolis starting June 11 in many ways aligns with many Southern Baptists' values. But it would also represent an affirmation of an idea championed by a select few thought leaders.

The SBC Resolutions Committee recommended the resolution for approval after receiving a draft submitted by Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Southern seminary ethics professor Andrew Walker.

"The hard thing is that many who consider themselves to be pro-life have refused to extend their own logic to the huge moral crisis posed by IVF procedures," Mohler said in a column for World magazine in February following the Alabama Supreme Court ruling.

Amid the backlash to the court ruling, the Republican-dominated legislature in Alabama carved out new rules aimed at protecting IVF providers.

Mohler's column cited what he viewed as other potentially problematic components of IVF, such as that it allows same-sex couples or a single woman to have children. Mohler, a leading contemporary evangelical figure in the U.S., said he's been opposing IVF for 20 years.

The SBC, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, has generally been silent about the medical technology, according to Religion News Service.

"A man plus a woman plus marriage is the right context for children to emerge with no moral complications," Mohler said in his February column. "Any alienation from that context brings, at the very least, moral risk."

Mohler has recently backed other ideas that resonate with some Southern Baptists but irked many others. Some examples are endorsing a proposed measure to enshrine a ban on women pastors and denouncing the guilty verdict in former President Donald Trump's hush money trial.

For decades, the SBC has been a major force in the anti-abortion movement and helped frame the moral parameters for a conservative view of childbearing. Resolutions — non-binding statements that Southern Baptist voting delegates, called messengers, vote on every year — are one way the denomination has done that. Those resolutions inform advocacy work by the SBC's public policy arm, the Nashville-based Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

In fact, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission recently wrote members of Congress advocating for policy priorities, including opposition to increased access to IVF.  

The proposed resolution for the 2024 SBC annual meeting calls on Southern Baptists "to advocate for the government to restrain actions inconsistent with the dignity and value of every human being, which necessarily includes frozen embryonic human beings."

Last year's SBC resolutions:SBC updates: Rick Warren gives impassioned plea for Saddleback Church in SBC debate over women pastors

Other items the SBC Resolutions Committee is recommending for approval include:

Liam Adams covers religion for The Tennessean. Reach him at ladams@tennessean.com or on social media @liamsadams.

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