Southern Baptists and Abortion

I searched this sub-forum and had a difficult time finding something specific to my question.

I heard that Southern Baptists are against abortion, except for cases of rape, incest, or life of the mother. Why? I’d ask my in-laws, but it might be touchy for various reasons, and I want to try to understand a little better.


The Southern Baptist Convention is opposed to abortion except in cases where the mother is in danger.

Well, my in-laws are Southern Baptist, middle-aged, and my husband said they believe abortion should be legal in the cases of rape and incest, and that the soul doesn’t enter the body until birth (I think.) I was wondering if someone could elaborate on that.

They may hold to the old 1970’s view of the SBC on abortion. Their original statements on it in the immediate lead up to Roe v Wade were that the SBC supported abortion in cases of “rape, incest, clear evidence severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”

That stance has been hardened down to the current view by the church much more recently.

So your in-laws may just hold to the old SBC view of abortion.

Padres 1969 is absolutely correct. I researched this interesting denominational flip-flop in graduate school.

Beginning in the 1970s and completing by the 1980s, Southern Baptists moved from a libertarian Christian view on abortion to a sanctity of human life position (in which the life of the infant was held sacred and could only be terminated when the life of the mother, also sacred, was imminently and bodily threatened).

You need to understand that one of the hallmark of the Baptist creed is “soul liberty”–the idea that the human conscience is free to make its on moral determinations in the light of God’s word.

In the 1960s, the Southern Baptist Convention was controlled by men who held soul liberty to be a VERY important principle–which they applied to the issue of women deciding for themselves in the light of God’s word what they would do if they faced the issue of having to choose to abort in the face of catastrophic disease, rape, incest, or harm to the mother.

At the same time, there were many conservative Southern Baptist preachers who taught a tradition that the fetus was not a living soul until it had been born and had life separate from the mother. Following Roe v. Wade, leading SBC conservative W. A. Criswell, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, articulated a position with which many conservative and moderate Southern Baptist leaders could agree:

I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had life separate from its mother that it became an individual person, and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.

Of course, once most Southern Baptists thought through the implications of this belief and the “soul liberty” concept as applied to a woman’s right to choose, they readily acknowledged that abortion needed to be much more limited.

By the 1990s, it had become a requirement for all SBC agency employees and trustees to adhere to a pro-life position on abortion. In 1998, conservatives even managed to amend the Baptist Faith and Message, the most important and comprehensive statement of Southern Baptist belief, to include the phrase, “Children, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord.”

The specific statement passed by the Convention on abortion is that it is prohibited for all reasons except for preventing “the imminent death of the mother.”

Thanks! I suppose I would have to ask them why they agree with the older formulation, in light of the newer one.

Most likely they belong to one of the more liberal SBC congregations who have chosen to remain part of the Convention. Most of the liberal congregations left or were pushed out (depending on your point of view) doing the “Conservative Resurgence” or “Conservative Takeover” of the 1980s and 1990s.

But, as in every church, you always have small groups who insist on holding beliefs contrary to the majority. With Baptists, this is easier to do than in more hierarchical denominations because the state and national conventions have so little control over the local churches as it is.

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