Satanists. Abortion. Planned Parenthood. Where in the world would those three things have anything to do with one another?
In Missouri, apparently, where Planned Parenthood appears to have an unexpected advocate in its quest to fight what it considers to be restrictive abortion laws.
On Tuesday, Slate staff writer Christina Cauterucci connected the rise of abortion services in Missouri to recent court challenges to the state’s abortion laws by the Satanic Temple, a political activist organization and religion based in Massachusetts.
Earlier this week the Temple began arguing — for a second time — in Missouri courts that the state’s abortion laws violate their members’ rights to free religious practice.
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This happens as Planned Parenthood prepares to resume abortion services at its midtown Kansas City clinic. Planned Parenthood stopped offering abortions at the clinic about five years ago.
The number of abortion providers in the state is now set to grow from just one, in St. Louis, to five, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune.
Planned Parenthood has battled state regulations requiring doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges and clinics that provide abortions to meet standards set for outpatient surgical centers.
The laws are similar to ones in Texas struck down last year by the U.S. Supreme Court, deemed unnecessary and unconstitutional.
Planned Parenthood took Missouri to court, and a federal judge sided with the group, blocking enforcement of the laws while citing the Supreme Court’s decision regarding Texas laws.
The federal court ordered the state Department of Health and Senior Services to issue licenses promptly for clinics in Kansas City, Columbia, Springfield and Joplin, according to the Tribune.
“Missouri’s recent stroke of good fortune in the reproductive rights realm may have to do with intervention from the fiery underworld,” Cauterucci wrote.
Cauterucci’s theory later exploded into a story on Breitbart.com with this headline: “Planned Parenthood Teams up with Satanists to Promote Abortion in Missouri.”
Cauterucci reports that challenges from the Satanists to Missouri’s abortion laws began two years ago when a pregnant member of the Satanic Temple from rural Missouri, called “Mary Doe,” tried to use a religious waiver to become exempt from two of the state’s abortion laws.
One requires patients to look at anti-abortion literature. The other requires a 72-hour waiting period between a patient’s first consultation with a doctor and her second appointment.
Doe traveled from Greene County in southwest Missouri to St. Louis in 2015 to have an abortion, according to St. Louis Public Radio. She gave a Planned Parenthood doctor a letter claiming a religious exemption to the 72-hour waiting period.
The letter also said she would not review a pamphlet claiming that life begins at conception and that abortion ends “the life of a separate, unique living human being.”
The doctor rejected the letter, and “Mary Doe” sued.
The Satanists argued in court that forcing members like “Mary Doe” to read “non-scientific” anti-abortion pamphlets and “consider a religious proposition with which they do not agree” violates members’ rights to free religious practice.
The laws, the Temple claimed, violate two core tenets of its faith: that “one’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone” and, “beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.”
The temple filed state and federal lawsuits, but a Cole County circuit judge threw out the case in December, deciding that a strong enough argument had not been made, according to St. Louis Public Radio.
The attorney general’s office argued in court documents that the judge was correct to throw out the case because the law didn’t require “Mary Doe” to do anything other than hear information she didn’t agree with.
But the Satanic Temple is back in court this week. On Monday the state Court of Appeals began hearing arguments on whether “Mary Doe” should have been allowed to opt out of the state’s 72-hour waiting period and its informed consent laws.
The appeals court will decide whether the lawsuit goes to trial, according to St. Louis Public Radio.
The Satanists are also challenging the two restrictions in federal court, where a hearing before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled for Sept. 20, public radio reports.
A 2015 New York Times profile of the Satanic Temple — reportedly 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, posted on its website, is this: “The mission of The Satanic Temple 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 Times noted how the Temple “has in three years achieved the kind of social media exposure usually reserved for pets in distress.”