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Brent Leatherwood and the ERLC: The Surprising Obstacle to Anti-Abortion Legislation

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In an unsurprising development to anyone who’s been paying attention to recent trends in Evangelicalism, Brent Leatherwood, a signer of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) letter condemning the criminalization of abortion and holding mothers responsible, and also the President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), has yet again obliterated legislation aimed at abolishing abortion. Although the ERLC is widely regarded as pro-life, Leatherwood’s actions have sparked suspicion among anti-abortion activists who doubt the organization’s devotion to their mission.

The recent trajectory of anti-abortion laws in the United States has been characterized by a rollercoaster of defeats and triumphs, with state legislatures imposing a variety of restrictions on the procedure. Shockingly, the ERLC President, Brent Leatherwood, has emerged as the primary roadblock to passing these laws.

As an NRLC letter signatory, Leatherwood ostensibly champions unborn rights, leading many to anticipate his unwavering support for anti-abortion legislation. Yet his actions consistently betray these expectations, casting a shadow over his dedication to the pro-life cause.

Leatherwood’s latest act of sabotage transpired in Missouri, where a bill effectively banning abortions after detecting a fetal heartbeat – typically around six weeks into pregnancy – was introduced. Supported by a majority of state legislators, the bill was seen as a crucial step towards ending abortion in the state.

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Leatherwood’s ERLC played a crucial role in the bill’s downfall, despite its widespread support. Samuel Lee of Campaign Life Missouri and Susan Klein of Missouri Right to Life both cited the NRLC joint letter signed by Leatherwood as their reason for opposition.

This is far from the first time Leatherwood and the ERLC have thwarted anti-abortion legislation. Leatherwood has a history of opposing such laws, often claiming they are too radical or won’t withstand judicial scrutiny. This strategy is a blatant betrayal of the pro-life cause, as it effectively halts any substantial progress on the matter.

In 2022, after defeating a similar bill in Louisiana, the ERLC claimed the legislation was “too extreme” and would not endure legal challenges.

At the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, ERLC employee Josh Wester argued against a resolution demanding the complete abolition of abortion. The organization also tweeted that it envisions a future where abortion is not only illegal but “unnecessary and unthinkable.”

This idea that abortion should be made unnecessary originates from the belief that social justice, welfare, and communitarian collectivism are the root causes of abortion. Former ERLC head Russell Moore suggests that abortion persists due to a lack of social trust, which inhibits communities, governments, and religious bodies from adequately supporting women in crisis and their children. This view implies that instead of punishing those who have abortions, society should provide social and financial support to the point where abortion becomes unnecessary.

However, this logic falters when applied to issues like sex abuse or racism. Would the ERLC advocate for social justice and welfare programs in the same way for these issues, aiming to render them “unnecessary and unthinkable”? The ERLC’s position on abortion and its promotion of unbiblical ideology have drawn scrutiny, casting doubt on the organization’s genuine commitment to protect and affirm the dignity of all human life.

Some speculate that Leatherwood’s opposition to these bills stems from a desire to preserve the status quo and evade potential legal challenges that could ultimately undermine the pro-life movement. By opposing legislation deemed too extreme, Leatherwood and the ERLC can masquerade as moderate voices in the debate, potentially garnering support from a wider audience. This strategy, however, has been criticized as counterproductive, as it obstructs any significant progress towards ending abortion.

The ERLC’s repeated opposition to anti-abortion legislation has prompted some pro-life activists to question the organization’s allegiance to their cause. While the ERLC’s official stance is that it supports the rights of the unborn, its actions seem to contradict this position. This has generated a sense of betrayal and disillusionment among Southern Baptists who once viewed the ERLC as a steadfast ally in the battle against abortion.

As the debate over abortion rages on in the United States, it remains uncertain whether the ERLC, under Leatherwood’s leadership, will bring its actions in line with its professed pro-life values. Until that happens, many anti-abortion activists will regard Leatherwood and the ERLC with skepticism, questioning their commitment to defending the rights of the unborn.


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