The new head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Brent Leatherwood, recognized the deep difficulties in fighting abortion in Illinois.
In a live appearance at the recent Illinois Baptist State Association Annual Meeting, Leatherwood said ERLC wants to partner with Illinois Baptists to encourage abortion alternatives.
“Illinois is an abortion destination,” Leatherwood told messengers Nov. 3 at the IBSA Annual Meeting. “People from my state, Tennessee, and other states are coming here to end lives. We need to meet them at your state borders with a message of life and with the tools to save lives.”
The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade returned abortion regulation to the states, but Illinois General Assembly had already staked a claim for Illinois as the most progressive abortion state in the nation.
“As you all are too familiar, not every state would be choosing life in this moment. In fact, some have gone the opposite direction,” he told the messengers meeting not far from the states’ largest abortion clinic in Fairview Heights.
“While tragic, in a state like Illinois,” he noted, “it means there’s more work to be done — work that requires the moral leadership that only our churches can provide.”
Confronting an abortion destination
Predictions that Illinois would become an abortion destination for women in states with stricter controls are proving true.
The Fairview Heights Planned Parenthood facility reported a 38% increase in out-of-state abortions in the months after the last Missouri clinic closed. And a facility in Champaign recently doubled capacity in anticipation of a similar rise.
A mobile facility is expected to begin operating in Southern Illinois before the end of the year.
And six new abortion clinics are planned for Carbondale, Doug Devore, interim executive director of the Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services reported at the meeting. BCHFS opened GraceHaven Pregnancy Clinic in Mount Vernon to provide aid to women who choose to carry their unborn babies to full term.
Leatherwood received applause when he pledged tangible support in the form of ultrasound machines.
“We want to make sure the next wave of our Psalm 139 ultrasound placements — of the life-saving ultrasound machines — come to states like Illinois,” he said
The Psalm 139 Project uses private donations to buy and place the machines, which allow pregnant women to see their unborn babies, even at an early stage. Seeing the child in recognizable phases of development is often a turning point for women who might otherwise consider abortion.
“So that’s why we want to partner with you,” Leatherwood told the church leaders in Illinois.
Leatherwood made two stops in the Midwest the first week of November, at state conventions in Illinois and Michigan.
Responding to the needs of churches
Elected to succeed former ERLC President Russell Moore in September, Leatherwood has engaged in multiple contacts with pastors, churches and conventions, in an effort to rebuild strained relations between the SBC’s main voice in the public square and grassroots Baptists who disagreed with many of Moore’s positions.
“As we work to reestablish and reimagine this Baptist institution,” Leatherwood told messengers, “it is vital that it is done in such a way that it responds to the needs of our churches, while building on the legacy of those who have come before us.”
Leatherwood was brought to the ERLC staff by Moore in 2017 and served as acting president for a year after Moore’s resignation in 2020.