Why The Satanic Temple Is Fighting Missouri's Restrictive Abortion Law

“Not everyone believes human life begins at conception,” said the organization's attorney.
The Satanic Temple is challenging Missouri's abortion law on the grounds that it violated a member's religious beliefs.
The Satanic Temple is challenging Missouri's abortion law on the grounds that it violated a member's religious beliefs.
Reuters Staff / Reuters

On Monday, The Satanic Temple delivered oral arguments in front of the Missouri State Court Western Appellate District in an effort to challenge the state’s abortion law.

The organization, which views Satan as a symbol of personal autonomy and promotes compassion and “rational inquiry,” is arguing that Missouri’s abortion restrictions — including its informed consent law and mandatory 72-hour waiting period before procedures — violated the religious beliefs of one of its members.

The temple first filed a complaint in May of 2015 on behalf of a member identified as Mary Doe, who had sought out an abortion. Doe reportedly had to drive over three hours to a Planned Parenthood, taking time off work and paying for a hotel room. In accordance with Missouri law, the clinic told Doe she had to wait 72 hours before she could get the procedure. She was also asked to review a booklet of “informed consent” materials that assert: “The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”

Among the organization’s central tenets is the belief that “one’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.”

By promoting the belief that human life begins at conception, the temple’s attorney James Mac Naughton argued, “the state is actively promoting a religious belief” that conflicts with Doe’s convictions.

“Basically [Doe] was preached to by the state of Missouri, and that’s an establishment clause violation,” Mac Naughton said. “Not everyone believes human life begins at conception.”

The temple argues that the state’s abortion mandates violate Missouri’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the free exercise clause of First Amendment and the establishment clause of the First Amendment ― which prohibits the government from enacting laws that seem to favor any religion over another.

Missouri is one of six states that require patients are told that personhood begins at conception and one of 13 that require patients are told about the fetus’ ability to feel pain, according to the Guttmacher Institute. There are mandatory waiting periods in 27 states, but only four have 72-hour waiting periods ― the longest in the country ― including Missouri.

The Satanic Temple filed follow-up complaints in 2016, which were dismissed. The Missouri attorney general’s office argued in court documents dated June 30 that the Cole County judge was right to dismiss the case because the informed consent law only mandated that Doe receive information she didn’t agree with.

“Under the plain language of the statute, the interest in avoiding exposure to information with which one disagrees is not an ‘exercise of religion’ because it does not involve any ‘act or refusal to act’ that is substantially motivated by sincere religious belief,” attorneys for the state argued.

A representative from the attorney general’s office declined to comment for this article due to the fact that the case is pending litigation.

Despite the roadblocks, Mac Naughton said he’s optimistic that Monday’s oral arguments would move the case forward.

“If you want to change the law in court it’s a slow arduous process,” he said.
“I’m optimistic that we’re going to make a small step forward here.”

If the appellate court finds the temple’s complaint to have merit, Mac Naughton said, the case could likely be transferred to the Missouri Supreme Court.

“The outcome we’re shooting for is that people who hold sincerely held religious beliefs that human life doesn’t begin at conception aren’t subjected to informed consent laws,” he said.

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