What to Know About the Southern Baptists’ Vote Opposing I.V.F.

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Southern Baptists, the country’s largest denomination of Protestant Christians, voted at an annual gathering on Wednesday to oppose the use of in vitro fertilization.

The decision was a momentous one for the convention, which has long wrestled over questions about when personhood begins, and which includes many families who have pursued, or plan to pursue, I.V.F. treatments.

More than 10,000 delegates gathered in Indianapolis for the annual meeting, which is closely watched every year as a barometer of evangelical sentiment. Preceding the vote on in vitro fertilization — a hotly contested issue at the crossroads of science, religion, politics and family planning — were emotional testimonies from congregants of varying viewpoints.

Here are some questions and answers about the vote, and what it could mean.

Wednesday’s vote was the first time that attendees at the Southern Baptist meeting have addressed the ethics of in vitro fertilization directly. Their resolution is not a ban and will have no binding effect on families pursuing fertility treatments.

Instead, the resolution calls on Southern Baptists “to reaffirm the unconditional value and right to life of every human being, including those in an embryonic stage, and to only utilize reproductive technologies consistent with that affirmation, especially in the number of embryos generated in the I.V.F. process.”

In vitro fertilization, which involves fertilizing eggs with sperm in a medical setting and then placing one or more of those embryos into the womb, often results in the destruction of unused embryos, a major reason some evangelicals oppose it.

The resolution on Wednesday said that all children are a gift from God, no matter how they were conceived. It did not explicitly oppose the creation of embryos in a lab — but did criticize their destruction.

The resolution also called on Southern Baptists to “advocate for the government to restrain” actions inconsistent with the dignity of “every human being, which necessarily includes frozen embryonic human beings.”

The vote on Wednesday indicates that evangelicals are increasingly open to arguments that equate embryos with human life. And it suggests, two years after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, that “fetal personhood” may be the next front for the anti-abortion movement.

The 2022 Supreme Court decision, which left the regulation of abortion to individual states, reopened arguments by conservative legal theorists and Republican legislators that fetuses, starting at the earliest stages, should be granted the same legal protections as any person.

Disagreements over I.V.F. came to a head in Alabama in February, when the State Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos in test tubes should be considered children. The decision sent shock waves through the world of reproductive medicine, raising complex legal questions with implications extending far beyond Alabama.

The Southern Baptist Convention has almost 13 million church members across the United States and has long been seen as a bellwether for American evangelicalism. The reliably conservative membership makes the denomination a powerful political force, and the convention’s debates tend to attract a lot of outside interest.

But fertility can be a fraught and deeply personal subject, and many Republicans are anxious to avoid the appearance of interfering in the lives of women who are trying to have children. The authors of the Southern Baptist resolution acknowledged that the issue is divisive even among strongly anti-abortion Christians.

In this election year, Republicans have at times struggled to address some voters’ concerns about restrictions on reproductive health care.

After the I.V.F. court ruling in Alabama, President Biden and other Democrats pointed to the decision as a sign of conservatives’ overreach into women’s lives, and Republicans from Montgomery to Washington raced to publicly endorse I.V.F. treatments.

The Alabama Legislature passed a bill to protect in vitro fertilization providers in the state, and Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Katie Britt of Alabama, both Republicans, introduced federal legislation intending to protect the procedure.

Among conservative Christians, the belief that life begins at conception has been a driving force behind anti-abortion policies for years. But that thinking does not always go hand-in-hand with opposition to in vitro fertilization.

Catholic teaching forbids I.V.F., though many Catholics pursue the treatment anyway. Protestant theology varies widely, and some leaders are more open to the procedure.

Evangelical tradition, in particular, has long put an emphasis on being pro-family, and many adherents see I.V.F. positively because it creates more children.

Still, evangelical and Catholic communities have increasingly bonded over their shared conservative beliefs. And if the vote on Wednesday is any indication, the pitched politics around fertility in America may continue to shape evangelical belief and practice on I.V.F.

Elizabeth Dias and Emily Cochrane contributed reporting.



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