IVF and the Southern Baptist Convention

New resolution formally opposes the use of IVF in defense of embryonic life.


John Stonestreet

Jared Hayden

At last week’s annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, the denomination voted to formally oppose the use of in vitro fertilization (IVF). Media outlets quickly reported that the move indicated how abortion opponents were intruding into even more areas of women’s reproductive health. In reality, the resolution better aligns Southern Baptists with a core theological conviction, namely that “the dignity and value of every human being … necessarily includes frozen embryonic human beings.” 

Many of the delegates (called “messengers”) who opposed the resolution told personal stories from the convention floor. For example, one Ohio husband whose first two children were conceived by IVF said, “I have 10 embryos I love. I am for the sanctity of life and for the sanctity of embryos. I’m against the idea that this technology is so wicked that it cannot be employed.” In his view, which was echoed last week by a group of Republican lawmakers defending the procedure, IVF is deeply pro-life because it brings children into the world, and even miraculous because it offers people who otherwise could not conceive a child a chance to do so. 

As the SBC’s resolution rightly acknowledges, infertility brings “searing pain” to those who want children but cannot conceive. However, the resolution also rightly recognizes that the real pain of infertility does not justify any means by which to produce children—especially means that result in the abandonment and destruction of other precious lives.   

As practiced, the current process of IVF almost always involves creating multiple embryos for implantation. The creation and implantation of “excess” embryos gives parents better chances at conceiving. If more embryos survive implantation than are desired, “voluntary reduction” (another word for abortion) is often recommended and performed.  

If pregnancy is achieved before all embryos are implanted, the others are frozen, disposed of, donated to medical research, or stored for later use. There are an estimated 1.5 million frozen embryos in the U.S. alone, as the SBC’s resolution notes.   

Though some providers stipulate that all embryos that are created must be implanted, that is nearly impossible to enforce, and most providers do not have that requirement. A small number may be donated to other couples for adoption, an especially redemptive alternative that offers embryos a chance at life. The vast majority of embryos created through IVF will betreated as propertyand not children. 

Strictly speaking, IVF can be done in a way that does not lead to the creation of “excess” embryos or their destruction.In a 2018 interview,former president of the Christian Medical and Dental Association Dr. David Stevens argued that the ethical way to perform IVF is either by fertilizing and implanting one embryo at a time or by the couple agreeing to implant every embryo created. However, given the costs ofeach IVF cycleand the almost 50% failure rate, most couples and clinics choose the more “efficient” option, which involves creating excess embryos. Further, the industry is remarkably underregulated, and most Christian couples will not receive any guidance from their churches about the ethics of artificial reproductive technologies. 

Katy Faust is correct to observe, as she did at the recent Colson Center National Conference, that abortion and IVF are, as currently practiced, “two sides of the same child-commodifying coin.” Both reduce the rights of children to the desires of adults. With this new resolution, the SBC has taken a strong step toward clarity and consistency. Other denominations should too. As they say, if it’s misty in the pulpit, it will be foggy in the pew. 

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