Ministry by churches crucial in post-Roe world, advocates say

Churches and their members have essential roles to play in helping women and pre-born children in a post-Roe world, Christians involved in pro-life ministry say.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision has given states the authority to put into effect abortion bans for the first time in almost 50 years. Nearly half of the states already have laws prohibiting abortion either throughout pregnancy or at some stage of pregnancy, although courts have blocked enforcement of some.

In states with abortion bans, the change in the legal landscape has placed a renewed focus on pro-life work — and on the ministry of the local church, Christian pro-life advocates said.

“What we want to see is the church is the first place that [a woman with an unplanned pregnancy] goes, that she feels that love and that compassion, that she feels that the church is going to be a refuge for her,” said Elizabeth Graham, vice president of operations and life initiatives for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Graham’s comments came during a June panel discussion about the future of the pro-life movement that took place before the overruling of Roe.

Rick Morton, vice president of engagement for Lifeline Children’s Services, said, “We love crisis pregnancy centers [and] believe that there’s great necessity [in them]. And we believe in the church. We believe that ultimately the place that those women need — they need to be discipled, they need to be surrounded by community — is in the local church.”

Lifeline has prepared discipleship resources to provide churches with “the building blocks” to engage in ministering for the long term to women with unplanned pregnancies, Morton said.

Even before the Supreme Court overturned Roe, churches were asking how they could serve after a draft opinion annulling the 1973 decision was leaked in early May.

Churches reached out to Lifeline after the leak to say, “[W]e are recognizing that we need to do more, and so can you help us learn how to do more? Can you help us figure out ways that we can get engaged?” said Chris Johnson, the ministry’s national director of church partnerships, in a June interview by Baptist Press.

Lifeline’s work includes pregnancy counseling, adoption and family restoration in the United States, with offices in 16 states. The 41-year-old ministry, which is based in Birmingham, Ala., offers international adoption in 18 countries.

In some ways, this is “a beginning” and “not an end,” Morton said. “[M]aybe some of the hope out of this actually is that there are people who are rethinking and reframing the issue in their own mind, and maybe some folks who haven’t been as active and haven’t really related their pursuit of Christ and the gospel to this issue.”

It may be “a beginning point” for such Christians to say, “I’ll begin to get in and minister to women in crisis, to minister to those women and their unborn children, adoptive families,” he said. “I think there are all kinds of people that God could potentially use to wake the church up.”

Sometimes that ministry is simple and practical, said Lori Bova, who has participated in pro-life work for more than two decades.

“I have learned that creating a culture of life often looks like meeting needs — driving women to appointments, buying diapers and wipes, providing childcare, etc.,” said Bova, chair of the ERLC’s trustees and a member of a Southern Baptist church in New Mexico. “We have a Savior who came to serve. It should be no surprise that this is our best means to change hearts and minds toward life, and ultimately the gospel.”

Churches can seek to address the “systemic drivers” that pregnant women often say push them to choose abortion, including the need for affordable housing and childcare, as well as a sufficient salary, Graham said. Church members can provide childcare, help women find jobs, volunteer with need-meeting programs and open their homes to pregnant women to offer a “continuum of care” for the long term, she said.

“[W]e just need to connect with her, help her to feel safe, help her to know that she has other options and to walk alongside her,” Graham said. “These women know that the decision they’ve made is a sin against God, but we can be there to show them compassion and grace and the cross.”

Herbie Newell, Lifeline’s president, said churches need to be “long-suffering and patient” and “lean in on” God’s call to disciple women and children, “walking with them through the long term and being the place where women and children find help, healing and rescue. And that’s in the arms of the gospel and Christ Jesus.”

“[O]ne of the greatest things the church can do is to be a resource of social capital to a woman in crisis,” he said. “The truth of the matter is most of these women have nowhere to turn in their darkest hour. And there need to be churches that they can turn to who will do the hard and messy work.”

Churches can partner with gospel-focused pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) in serving vulnerable women, pro-life advocates said.

PRCs form the “front line in this battle,” Carol Everett told BP. “I would really like to see the Baptist church come to the forefront and every church get involved with a pregnancy resource center. That doesn’t mean they have to start one. They can get involved with their local one, and then they can have volunteers in there who serve as local missionaries. It’s a wonderful place for us to act as missionaries without going to a foreign mission field.”

The Heidi Group, which Everett founded in 1995, is working to open PRCs in unserved locations, such as the 21 counties in central and west Texas without one, said Everett, a member of a Southern Baptist church.

One way Southern Baptists have supported the work of PRCs is through the Psalm 139 Project, the ERLC’s ministry to help provide ultrasound technology to pregnancy centers and train staff members in its use.

The ERLC has nearly reached its goal of 50 ultrasound placements between December 2020 and January 2023. The Psalm 139 Project has 49 machines placed or committed to be placed by January. Since 2004, Psalm 139 has helped place ultrasound equipment at centers in 16 states.

Lisa Cathcart, executive director of the Pregnancy Care Center in Old Hickory, Tenn., for more than 13 years, told BP that advocating for and financially supporting PRCs is a way churches can conduct pro-life ministry.

PCC has “always worked for the dignity and welfare of both [mother and child], and our work starts with her — the woman who needs compassion, hope and practical help to consider alternatives to abortion,” Cathcart said in a written statement after Roe was overturned. “Our work will continue, even increase, and we are prepared to meet this moment.”

— Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.