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From the New York Times, I'm Sabrina Tavernisi, and this is The Daily. The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the country, voted at its annual gathering last week to condemn IVF fertility treatments. Today, my colleague, Ruth Graham, on the story behind the vote, the Republican scramble it prompted, and what it could eventually mean for the rest of the country. It's Monday, June 17th. Ruth, you write about religion for the Times, and you were covering the big annual meeting of Southern Baptist last week, and they made a pretty big decision. Tell us about it.


The Southern Baptist Convention, it's the biggest Protestant denomination in the United States. They have almost 13 million members, more than 45,000 churches. It's a huge group. Southern Baptist know their political power, and they are basically a barometer of evangelical sentiment in the US. What they say indicates what the typical evangelical cares about in any given moment. Fun for reporters, they all meet once a year in this giant gathering that any church can send delegates to. The delegates are called messengers. This year, that meeting was in Indianapolis. There were almost 11,000 messengers there in the Convention Center. One of the important political topics they took on this year was something they have never discussed as a full body before, and that's the ethics of in vitro fertilization.


Okay, so this very important conference of Southern Baptist takes up IVF. In other words, the medical procedure that allows people to get pregnant through fertilization in a lab. What do they say?


A lot of Southern Baptists historically have not taken issue IVF per se at all. They view it as a technology used to create life. It's used by families who desperately want to be parents, and they view that as a positive thing. But the procedure does involve, typically, the production of more embryos than will be used by the couple that created them. Those embryos end up sometimes discarded, sometimes frozen indefinitely, sometimes donated, but not used in the way that they were originally created to be used. Some Some Southern Baptists do take issue with discarding those excess embryos. The reason is they say, Life begins at conception. This is a core anti-abortion belief. The moment that the sperm meets the egg, that is the stuff of life. There's a verse in Psalms, You created my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother's womb. You'll hear that cited in Christian anti-abortion spaces a lot as evidence that God cares about and views as fully human beings at the very moment of conception, and that would include these frozen embryos.


Right. If you truly believe that life begins at conception, you probably would not agree to abortion at any stage of gestation. That same logic would apply to IVF. When this issue gets raised at the conference, what happens? What are people saying?


There's a resolution that comes to the floor. Resolutions in Southern Baptist language are nonbinding. This would not be ban. It's just a statement of concern that's meant to summarize Southern Baptist's opinion on this particular topic. The language that's proposed calls on Southern Baptist to reaffirm the value of human life, and then it narrows in on human life in an embryonic stage, and it urges them to just use reproductive technologies, fertility treatments that are consistent with that view of human life.


What does that mean?


They're actually walking a pretty fine line here. They stop short of saying that a Southern Baptist should never use IVF under any circumstances. They're calling attention to these excess embryos and saying that Baptists really should only use reproductive technology with attention to life at this embryonic stage. The resolution also goes so far as to ask Baptists to call on their governments to restrain these technologies that violate the dignity of, as they put it, frozen embryonic human beings.


So they're also actually asking people to pressure their governments to respect this position, basically.


That's right. It's light on specifics, but that's the suggestion.


But Ruth, why did they decide to raise this issue now? I mean, IVF, obviously, has been around for a long time.


Right. Back in February, there was a case that reached the Alabama Supreme Court that had started when a group of families in the state filed this wrongful death claim over a mistake at a fertility clinic where their frozen embryos were accidentally destroyed. They sue, and the state's Supreme Court ends up ruling not only in their favor, but says really clearly that frozen embryos should be considered children. The chief justice writes, Even before birth, all human beings have the image of God, and their lives cannot be destroyed without effacing his glory. So really putting out this religious argument for human life in embryonic form. So that case lands like a bomb.


The stunning decision from Alabama's Supreme Court has enormous and immediate consequences for fertility care.


And it really caught a lot of people off guard all along the spectrum. A third fertility clinic in Alabama has shut down after the state's Supreme Court ruled, Embryos are Children.


The court offered no clear roadmap for what is and isn't legal.


And it just places this question about the ethics and the legal aspects and all of this, it just puts IVF into the national conversation. We're concerned that with the new ruling, we may have to limit fertilization of eggs, which will limit success of treatment, limit efficiency, increased cost, and of course, risk to patients. It's a stressful process already, and I don't need the added stress, and no other woman does, of whether or not this might be moral to go through to have children when this is my only path. There's this really strong backlash to the idea that embryos should be protected with the force of the law as full human beings because IVF is broadly popular, including among many Republican voters.


Alabama House of Representatives and the Senate have passed a law that restores access to in vitro fertilization. Doctors at clinics have told ABC News the new language will give them enough reassurance to resume IVF without facing legal risks.


Ultimately, the state legislature, the Republican governor, work really quickly to reinstate it in the state. But it opens up this new conversation among conservative evangelicals who are broadly anti-abortion They're starting to think, should we think about this IVF conversation in the same way that we've thought about abortion? Should we be pushing on this more?


Most of the country takes the lesson from the Alabama case that IVF is not something to be interfered with. But for some in the evangelical community, they take the opposite lesson, it sounds like.


That's right. For some evangelicals, this feels like the perfect moment to bring IVF into the abortion conversation and start to turn the tide against it. One of these people is an ethicist in Kentucky. His name is Andrew Walker. He works at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. It's a major Southern Baptist seminary in Louisville. He's been wanting to to bring IVF into the mainstream Southern Baptist consciousness for a while. He first started writing about it about five years ago. He actually published an essay in a mainstream evangelical publication about it, got a lot of pushback, never felt it was the right moment to bring a resolution to the meeting. But he's had this tucked in the back of his mind because he has this pretty clear conviction that IVF does not comport with Christian anti-abortion values. When the Alabama ruling happens and the backlash and the broader conversation, Andrew Walker thinks this is the moment. He calls his friend and mentor, Dr. L. Mohler, who's the President of the seminary where they both work, and he says, Let's do it. Let's start crafting a resolution for the meeting this year. We'll see if it gets forward. We'll see if it gets discussed.


We'll see if it gets approved. But we've got to strike while the iron is hot here.


Did Baptist like Walker, understand that a resolution like this would have potentially quite bad implications for mainstream Republican politicians? Wasn't that the lesson of Alabama?


Yes. I talked with both Dr. Walker and Dr. Moller about this, and they both said they were completely aware of that. They didn't love it, but they both felt that that was not their highest priority. That was not their highest responsibility. If anything, Dr. Mohler said this in particular, he wanted to nudge Republicans on the issue. He actually said he wanted to do more than nudge Republicans. He wanted to call them out. This would be a really high-profile way to show to Republicans, Look, we've got thousands of mainstream Southern Baptist in a room here who are all expressing collective alarm and opposition to IVF as it's commonly practiced.


Okay, so Baptist leaders, nevertheless, put this proposal to a vote on the floor. Tell us about how that went when they put this proposal in front of thousands of other evangelicals.


It was really dramatic. We're in this cavernous convention hall where over the course of the last few days, there's been singing of hymns, people have heard sermons, there's been prayers, they've sent missionaries out. They've been together in the work of making their convention what they want it to be. Microphone 3A. Would you give us your name, your church, and proceed with your discussion? Yes. Daniel Taylor, messenger for- Then there's this incredible incredibly dramatic discussion and debate about the ethics of something so personal. Thank you, Mr. President. I rise to speak in favor of this amendment out of both a heart for the unborn and for those stricken with infertility. Anyone is allowed to come to the microphone under Southern Baptist rules, and you had two men come to the microphone to share really personal stories. For my friends, the initial steps of IVF yielded six viable embryos. Four of the embryos were implanted, and Two were frozen for a time. Only one survived to term their son and my God's son. Because of him, I thank God for IVF. One has a God's son born via IVF. I have a son because of IVF. I have another son, 20 weeks old in my wife's womb because of IVF.


The other has one child and his wife pregnant with a second via IVF.


I am for the sanctity of life and for the sanctity of embryos. I am against the idea that this technology is so wicked that it cannot be employed.


Both spoke about just loving these children and seeing the technology as a blessing from God.


I thank the authors of the resolution and the committee for the opportunity for the SBC to be a voice of biblical truth and clarity in this pressing cultural issue.


A woman came to the microphone on the other In addition to my living children, I am the mother of four babies that I never got to hold. Two of those babies we adopted as embryos.


Nothing in the process of IVF upholds the sanctity of life. There is no way to describe the treatment of embryos at any point in the IVF process as ethical or dignified.


To share that she had participated in embryo adoption, meaning that she had another family's embryos implanted in her womb to try to bring those pregnancies to fruition. In this case, she miscarried both times, but she had done that out of a sense of really moral obligation to these embryos as human life. It was quiet. I mean, people are really listening to these really personal stories and wrestling with them. This is personal for a lot of people in that room. But at the end of all this, it's time to vote on the resolution. In the end, the language has been really carefully crafted to bring Southern Baptist along on this argument. It affirms that God loves all children no matter the circumstances of their conception. It expresses empathy for couples trying to conceive. It says it's a good and positive thing to want to have children, to expand your family. Then it arrives at this point of saying that IVF, as it's commonly practiced, is not an ethical option for Southern Baptist in most circumstances. So this resolution comes to a vote to the thousands of people in that room. They're all sitting in folding chairs.


They raise their little orange ballots in favor or against. And the resolution passes overwhelmingly.


So this resolution ultimately passes. But how important is it really if it's just an expression of sentiment? It's not actually a directive to do something.


It's hugely significant. This is the first major public statement that this group of influential evangelicals, frankly influential Republican voters, have made on this issue. It really sets them up on a collision course with mainstream Republicans.


We'll be right back. This podcast is supported by Metta. Instagram has family tools that help your family have a safer, healthier experience on the app. When teenagers set up their Instagram profile, default private accounts ensure that what they post stays private to them and their followers. Selecting a daily time limit helps your teenager keep healthy habits on the app. And by setting up supervision together, you gain more insight into who they're following. Learn more about these and other family tools at Instagram. Com/familytools. My name is Audrey D. S. Birch, and I am a national correspondent covering race and identity for the New York Times.


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If you are curious about the world in which we live, if you're interested in who you are, where you come from, and how you relate to others, I would I encourage you to subscribe to the New York Times. Ruth, you said that this vote really sets evangelicals on a collision course with mainstream Republicans. What did that look like?


So mainstream Republicans, in the wake of the Alabama ruling, have really circled the wagons to try to show that they are not only totally comfortable with IVF, but are going to go to great lengths to preserve it. They see it as pro-family. They know that's how most of their constituents view it. They want to really show that they see that as totally separate from the conversation about abortion and that they are going to be the ones to preserve access to IVF. On the very same day this happened in Indianapolis, in Washington. I want to yield to the Senator from Alabama, Senator Brett. Thank you so much. Senator Katie Brett of Alabama. She's an evangelical Christian. She gets up on the floor of the Senate and gives this impassioned Beach supporting IVF. I was proud to join my colleague from Texas and introducing the IVF Protection Act. She, with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, has put forward this bill that they say is intended to protect IVF access by blocking Medicaid funding to states that ban it outright. Democrats say that actually would not have done anything to fix the problem, and there are these jockeying bills, but still, she gets up on the Senate floor.


Okay. As a mom, I know firsthand that there's no greater joy in this life than that of being a mother. Ivf helps aspiring parents- And speaks as a mom, as she puts it, in defense of IVF. Ivf access is fundamentally pro-family. She's wearing this really prominent cross necklace. She talks about how supporting IVF is pro-family, that that's the pro-family point of view. We all have loved ones, whether they're family members or friends who have become or grandparents through IVF. She puts out a statement the same day with Senator Cruz, and it's signed by all of her Republican colleagues, including Josh Hawley, Marsha Blackburn, every conservative across the spectrum in the Senate signs onto this support for IVF.


So even the most conservative Republicans in Congress are coming out with this position that's really at odds with the evangelicals.


That's right. Ivf is hugely popular. Fertility treatments are widely used, including by evangelicals. Most people don't even think negatively about this stuff, let alone want to ban it. So it's a real dilemma for Republicans to watch evangelicals potentially turn in this direction.


So there's pressure from the Southern Baptist Convention on mainstream Republicans, which I have to imagine is making Democrats pretty happy. I saw President Biden out there with a fundraising email the day that the Southern Baptist voted.


That's right. Democrats are really leaning into reproductive rights right now. They're putting abortion measures on ballots in November. They know that's going to attract their voters. It's going to attract independents. They're pointing out these restrictions. They're talking about this stuff. The vote last week from the Southern Baptist is another suggestion that there's this movement out there that doesn't just want to regulate at 15 weeks, not just at 12 weeks, not just at six weeks, but all the way down to the embryo in the lab. I think Democrats see an opportunity here to exploit this growing divide between evangelicals and Republicans, at least on this issue.


This is all going to be all the more salient ahead of a very important presidential election. We're really hurtling down the tracks toward a big decision point for people.


Yeah, that's exactly right. The Republican Party and American evangelicals have been in lockstep, really, since the 1970s. Now for Republicans, there's this question about whether or not it's still politically advantageous for them to follow where the anti-abortion movement is going on this stuff because they're pushing into places that are really deeply unpopular among the American population overall. The anti-abortion movement itself at this point is pretty divided on where it's going to go next. We saw the Supreme Court last week on Thursday. They maintained access to the abortion pill. There were divisions even within the anti-abortion movement over whether or not to bring that case forward. Some within that movement were skeptical of it. You're seeing confusion and disagreement, even internally, on where to go after the overturning of Roe v Wade.


Ruth, what about the broader population of evangelical Christians? There were 10,000 people at the Southern Baptist Conference voting on this. But what about everybody else? Where are they on this?


I think that's still a really open question at this point. I talked to this young pastor from Georgia at the meeting who was saying, I don't want to go back to the people in my church and tell them that the creation of their children and grandchildren comes from these immoral means, and the language of the resolution was careful around that, but it's still going to be really hard to get that across and to just translate it for the people in the pews. If you're an ordinary Southern Baptist, reading the headlines and even reading the text of this, it's a tough one. At the same time, talking with Andrew Walker about this, who co-wrote the resolution, he acknowledged that a lot of Southern Baptists have not really thought about this stuff in terms of ethics and morality and connected it to the abortion question. But when he has one-on-one conversations with people about the topic and walks them through basically the logic of the resolution, he said almost everyone comes away from those conversations with, at the very least, a skepticism and a level of critical thinking around fertility treatments that they didn't come in with.


That suggests that there's at least an openness to thinking differently about fertility treatments. The reason all this matters is, obviously, evangelicals are this hugely influential voting block. They're used to having the power to turn their theological beliefs into policy. When they come together, you get this political force, the same political force that worked for decades over a lot of obstacles and was eventually successful in earning Roe v Wade. Now, IVF is different than abortion. Ivf is extremely popular, including at this point among evangelical Christians. But if we find out that evangelicals are persuadable on IVF, it doesn't just have implications for their personal spiritual lives. If this is the beginning of a moral awakening on IVF, and that's a big if, it would have real implications for the rest of the country.


Ruth, thank you.


Thank you.


We'll be right back.


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Here's what else you need to know today. On Friday, the Supreme Court struck down a ban on bump stocks, which enable semi-automatic rifles to fire at speeds rivaling those of machine guns. The This decision, by a vote of 6 to 3, split along ideological lines, had the effect of erasing one of the government's rare firearms regulations that came from a mass shooting. Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, said that the Bureau of alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and explosives had exceeded its power when it prohibited the device by issuing a rule that classified bumstocks as machine guns. And.... Open. Tens of thousands of demonstrators crowded onto streets in France on Saturday to denounce the rise of the country's far-right as the nation prepared to vote in snap elections, set to take place later this month. French President Emmanuel Macron shocked the country last week by announcing that he was dissolving the Lower House of Parliament after his party was clobbered by far-right opponents in a vote to seat the next European Parliament. Critics, including some in Macron's own party, warned that the President's move to call Snap elections opened the door to empowering the far-right in France for the first time since World War II.


Today's episode was produced by Rob Zypko, Sydney Harper, Stella Tan, Asda Chetravedi, and Michelle Banja. It was edited by Marc George and Lisa Chou. Contains original music by Dan Powell and Marion Lozano, and was engineered by Alyssa Moxley. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Lansberg of WNDERly. That's it for the Daily. I'm Sabrina Tavernousi. See you tomorrow. When it comes to ensuring your company has top-notch security practices, things can get complicated fast.


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