ERLC to aid pro-life cause in Northern Ireland

NASHVILLE (BP) -- The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission announced Thursday (Feb. 27) a new initiative to help churches in Northern Ireland in their response to the legalization of abortion in that country.

Abortion became legal Oct. 22, 2019, for the first time in Northern Ireland's history, and the country's new abortion regulations will take effect April 1. The British Parliament approved an amendment in July to decriminalize abortion in the country, which is part of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland's legislative body -- which had not functioned for three years because of the deep division between the country's two political parties -- failed to block the new law by the October deadline.

In a news release, the ERLC said it will maintain its pro-life work in the United States but could not disregard the great need in Northern Ireland. The ERLC said the effort will advance its work on human dignity issues internationally and is intended to take lessons learned in the American pro-life movement overseas. The initiative will consist of:

-- Placement of at least one ultrasound machine with a Christian, pro-life ministry as part of its Psalm 139 Project.

-- Stand for Life: Belfast, a conference June 19-20 to provide biblical teaching for leaders and training for pro-life ministries.

-- Curriculum for both American and international churches to equip staff and members to testify to the sanctity of human life in their communities.

The ERLC will partner with two organizations in Northern Ireland on the conference and curriculum: Both Lives Matter, which serves mothers and their unborn children, and Evangelical Alliance, which unites Christians in the United Kingdom.

ERLC President Russell Moore said in the news release, "The church of Jesus Christ always has and always will stand for life at every age. That's why the ERLC feels called to respond to this urgent international threat to preborn children. Our hope is that our long and tragic experience with abortion in the United States might give us a unique ability to help equip and serve alongside the church in Northern Ireland in this moment."

The ERLC is "not going there with all the answers," Moore said. "Instead, we hope to communicate to our brothers and sisters in Christ that we will be alongside them for prayer and to help the reborn stand for the preborn."

Brent Leatherwood, the ERLC's director of strategic partnerships, told Baptist Press, "With our long history of engaging international issues on behalf of the Southern Baptist churches we serve, this project represents the latest step in that work. We're grateful Southern Baptists have given us this privilege at such a crucial moment for vulnerable lives."

Dawn McAvoy, co-founder of Both Lives Matter, described the legal change on abortion as "a new phase in the history of Northern Ireland."

"We will continue to help people re-imagine, advocate and model a better story about the dignity of both mother and unborn child as abortion becomes more widely available here," she said, according to the ERLC news release. "Both Lives Matter has support across the community in Northern Ireland and we recognise that the church has a vital role to play in shaping a true culture of life."

David Smyth, the Northern Ireland head of the UK's Evangelical Alliance, described this as "an important moment for the Church in Northern Ireland to speak with one united voice about the dignity of both mother and child."

"We must navigate all of this wisely," he said in the news release. "We are committed to making sure the church is ready for this moment and Stand for Life: Belfast is a hopeful and proactive response to the specific context of Northern Ireland."

Speakers at Stand for Life: Belfast will include Moore, McAvoy and Peter Lynas, United Kingdom director for Evangelical Alliance. Information on the conference is available at www.standforlife.uk.

The ERLC's ultrasound machine placement in Northern Ireland will be its first outside the United States. Since 2004, its Psalm 139 Project has helped place 21 machines in pro-life pregnancy centers in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas.

Pro-life pregnancy centers report the availability of ultrasound technology has made a significant difference in the number of abortion-minded women who choose to give birth after seeing an image of their children.

All gifts to the Psalm 139 Project go toward machines and training, since the ERLC's administrative costs are covered by the Cooperative Program, the SBC's unified giving plan. Information on the Psalm 139 Project and how to donate is available at https://psalm139project.org.

The Psalm 139 Project is named after the psalm in which David testified to God's sovereign care for him when he was an unborn child. He wrote in verse 13, "You knit me together in my mother's womb."

Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.
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