By Max Londberg
A Missouri woman who is an adherent of the Satanic Temple won a victory in court last week in her quest to show that state abortion law violates her religious beliefs.
The Western District Court of Appeals ruled in her favor Tuesday, writing that her constitutional challenge — rare for its basis in religion — presented “a contested matter of right that involves fair doubt and reasonable room for disagreement.”
The woman, identified as Mary Doe in court documents, argued that her religion does not adhere to the idea that life begins at conception, and, because of that, the prerequisites for an abortion in Missouri are unconstitutionally violating her freedom of religion protected by the First Amendment.
The suit names Gov. Eric Greitens, Attorney General Josh Hawley and others as defendants.
Her claims were originally rejected by the Cole County Circuit Court, but she appealed the decision.
Doe underwent an abortion in May 2015 in St. Louis. But before she was able to have the procedure, she had to comply with the state’s informed consent law.
The law compels women to wait 72 hours between their initial visit and the procedure, view an active ultrasound and sign a form pledging that they’ve read a booklet that includes the line, “[t]he life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”
She declined to hear her fetus’ heartbeat and felt “guilt and shame,” according to court documents.
She claims that “the sole purpose of the law is to indoctrinate pregnant women into the belief held by some, but not all, Christians that a separate and unique human being begins at conception,” according to the court’s opinion. “Because the law does not recognize or include other beliefs, she contends that it establishes an official religion and makes clear that the state disapproves of her beliefs.”
The case would be the first of its kind to be heard by either the Missouri Supreme Court or U.S. Supreme Court, according to the Western District Court.
“Neither the Missouri Supreme Court nor the U.S. Supreme Court has considered whether a Booklet of this nature, an Ultrasound, an Audible Heartbeat Offer, and a seventy-two-hour Waiting Period violate the Religion Clause rights of pregnant women,” the court wrote.
Judge Thomas Newton issued the unanimous opinion. He wrote that Doe argued she must not support religious, philosophical or political beliefs that imbue her fetal tissue with an existence separate, apart or unique from her body.
“Because we believe that this case raises real and substantial constitutional claims, it is within the Missouri Supreme Court’s exclusive jurisdiction…” Newton wrote, “and we hereby order its transfer.”
Doe is an adherent of the Satanic Temple, according to court documents.
A 2015 New York Times profile of the Satanic Temple — formed by two people with a “shared distaste for organized religion” — pointed out how the group has used social media, its “eye-catching name” and imagery such as Baphomet, the “sabbatic goat,” to attract widespread media attention to its lawsuits.
The group’s mission is “to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will.”
The Satanic Temple is also a plaintiff in another, similar case in federal court, according to Missouri Lawyers Weekly.
Hawley said in a statement that he would vigorously defend “Missouri’s sensible waiting period law from this challenge by the Satanic Temple in the Missouri Supreme Court.”
Doe argues that the prerequisites to having an abortion reveal preferential treatment afforded to some in the state but not others.
“The State of Missouri is using its power to regulate abortion to promote some, but not all, religious beliefs that Fetal Tissue is, from conception, a separate and unique human being whose destruction is morally wrong,” she argued.
Doe is requesting that the sections in question of Missouri’s informed consent law be voided.