In this interview, Chad Ashby of College St. Baptist Church (Newberry, SC) talks with Mark Hendrick of the SCBC Office of Public Policy about the recent Pain Capable legislation that has passed in South Carolina as well as many other states.
Chad Ashby: Mark, tell us a little bit about what you do for Baptists in the state of SC.
Mark Hendrick: I have led the South Carolina Baptist Convention’s Office of Public Policy for five years. We work to educate and equip our churches to be salt and light in the culture, while addressing social and moral issues of our day. I work closely with the General Assembly of SC to relay concerns and perspectives in policy making that would align with Biblical teaching, The Baptist Faith and Message, and the practical concerns of the local churches and ministry partners we serve.
CA: Can you first explain in basic terms what the S.C. Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act writes into law?
MH: The bill effectively ends abortion after 20 weeks of fertilization, the point at which an unborn child can feel excruciating pain. There are two exceptions in place. One would be for the life of or the severe and irreversible impairment of a major body function of the mother. The second would be in cases of a severe fetal anomaly in which the child would be incompatible of sustaining life after birth.
CA: How long has the S.C. legislature been working toward getting the Pain-Capable Bill on the books?
MH: They have been working toward this for four legislative years. It was introduced in 2013, and it came within one vote shy of passing before the clock ran out on the two-year session that ended in 2014. It was then reintroduced this session and the process had to start over from the beginning. It was debated throughout 2015 and this year, passing the legislature with only eight days left.
CA: If Governor Haley signs Bill 3114, South Carolina will join seventeen other states who have enacted a law of this sort. However, studies show that less than 1.5% of abortions happen after 20 weeks gestation. Why work so hard for so little immediate payoff?
MH: It is important to look at the big picture when measuring your success. If you look at abortion stats in our state, there has been a steady decline for the last 28 years because of gradual restrictions like this. I think we would all love to see a sweeping policy to instantly end all abortions with one law. Until the hearts of our leaders change, and Roe v. Wade is overturned, I fear this will be hard to achieve. But, I think we would all agree that trying to save as many lives as we can, when we can, is a net plus. Those numbers add up and are evident in the big picture. This bill also helps maintain momentum and keeps people engaged in this fight.
As for the low figures, policy makers don’t think twice about advocacy that pertains to texting and driving, age to purchase firearms, seatbelts, helmets on ATV’s, car seats for infants, alcohol regulations, etc. to save young lives. Why is that any different than advocacy to save what many consider to be a life in the womb?
CA: Is there anything different about the Pain-Capable Bill compared to past attempts at anti-abortion legislation?
MH: Yes, this is the first attempt to limit the weeks at which an abortion can be performed. In the past, we have had legislation that regulates the industry, bans procedures, etc. This is the first time we are able to move the time frame at which abortion on demand can be performed in the state. The bill also legitimizes the fact that an unborn child does have at least some rights in the eyes of the law.
CA: Where does the pro-life movement go from here in the state of South Carolina? Do state legislators have a next step in process?
MH: A dismemberment abortion ban will be a prime pro-life debate for next session. There was recent movement on such a bill but not enough time left in the session to gain more traction. Dismemberment legislation would outlaw aborting a baby using dismemberment in the womb—essentially ending abortions beyond 13 weeks. This would be a great issue to tackle next that those in the pro-life community could support.
CA: So often we focus on what is going on in Washington D.C. What does the advance of the pro-life movement in Columbia, SC, tell us about the importance of involvement at the state level?
MH: It reminds us of the old saying that “politics is local”. You have a much easier time influencing policy on the state level through the people you see more often in the community. I think South Carolina’s political climate and moral fabric also give us an advantage in getting things done, more so than on the national scale. If you look at South Carolina’s abortion numbers, we peaked in 1988 with over 14,000 abortions. The latest data shows us at less than 6,000. Since that time, approximately a dozen state laws limiting abortions have passed. I can’t help but think that these saved lives aren’t directly correlated to advocacy on the state level.
CA: What are a few ways that we can get involved in our state government and local communities to help advance the pro-life cause?
MH: The most practical thing is to get to know your state representatives and state senators and ask them straightforwardly what their views are on the sanctity of life. I am shocked to learn how many people in the church don’t have a clue who is making laws on their behalf at the state level. If scripture calls us to address cultural issues, vote for people with character, and pray for those in authority, then simply knowing these elected leaders makes those three mandates easier to carry out. Doing those three tasks can make a world of difference in advancing pro-life causes.
You can take time to speak up publicly for the unborn in whatever forum that might be. We had a fourteen year-old girl who was supposed to be aborted that came and testified in a Senate Subcommittee hearing, and it was probably one of the most effective tools we had.
You can also pull the roll call record on pro-life votes and share with as many people as you can. You would probably be surprised to know that leaders in churches—including ministers—voted against the Pain Capable Bill. We need to hold our officials accountable in the voting booth and demand that action be taken to save the unborn.
Finally, get plugged in the local community to talk about these pro-life issues whether that is through a group at church, a club on a school campus, or through a local crisis pregnancy center or para-church ministry. Most importantly, get on your knees and pray.
Chad Ashby is the pastor of College Street Baptist Church and a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Grove City College.