Government & Politics

Satanist argues her religious abortion-rights case before the Missouri Supreme Court

Supporters of legal access to abortion, as well as anti-abortion activists, rallied outside the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016. On Tuesday, a Satanist arguing Missouri abortion law violates her religious beliefs came before the Missouri Supreme Court.
Supporters of legal access to abortion, as well as anti-abortion activists, rallied outside the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016. On Tuesday, a Satanist arguing Missouri abortion law violates her religious beliefs came before the Missouri Supreme Court.

A woman who says Missouri abortion law violates her religious beliefs brought her case before the Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The woman, identified in court documents as Mary Doe, is an adherent of the Satanic Temple. She names Gov. Eric Greitens as a defendant.

Doe’s New Jersey-based attorney, James Mac Naughton, argued before the Missouri Supreme Court that the state’s informed consent law violates Doe’s religious belief that life does not begin at conception.

The case is the first of its kind to be heard by either the Missouri Supreme Court or the U.S. Supreme Court.

The features of the law at issue are Missouri’s mandate that women wait 72 hours before having an abortion, sign a document confirming they’ve read a brochure that states life begins at conception, and have an opportunity to view an ultrasound and listen to a fetal heartbeat.

“Her journey led her to believe the tissue she was carrying was simply that: tissue,” Mac Naughton said to the judges. “But in the steps of Mary Doe’s journey, the state of Missouri says, ‘Wait a minute little lady, you’re about to commit murder.’

“... They want to change her mind and heart, change the way she sees herself in the cosmos.”

Doe’s real identity has not been made public. According to court documents, she is a resident of Greene County.

John Sauer, the state’s attorney, contested that Missouri’s sanctioning of the idea that life begins at conception in its abortion materials is not a religious belief but a philosophical one, and thus is not forcing doctrine on Doe.

Sauer also argued that Doe’s religious beliefs are not being altered by the state’s informed consent laws, nor is the state forcing Doe to view abortion and when life begins as the state does.

“She’s not a bad believer under her religion (by conforming to the state’s informed consent laws),” he said. “Her argument is the state is a bad believer.”

Jex Blackmore, a spokeswoman for the Satanic Temple, disagreed with Sauer, saying the state is effectively pushing a religious belief on citizens with its brochure stating life begins at conception and implying any abortion is therefore murder.

“They do everything to impose guilt and shame on them,” she said of women seeking abortion, “and that’s seen through a purely ideological viewpoint promoted by the state.

“The state forces women to wait 72 hours in order to consider the State’s position that life begins at conception.”

Blackmore added that lawmakers use “faith-based language” when speaking about abortion as evidence that anti-abortion legislation in the state is, in fact, guided by religious belief.

She pointed to a Missouri representative who last year beheaded a chicken in a strange anti-abortion message.

“God gave man dominion over life,” Rep. Mike Moon, an Ash Grove Republican, said before discussing his goal of ending abortion in the state.

Moon could not be immediately reached Tuesday.

Blackmore said the mere opportunity given to women seeking abortions to hear a fetal heartbeat and view an ultrasound is a violation of the Satanic Temple’s beliefs, as she said it serves to convince women that their fetus is a separate and viable human, contrary to the Satanists’ beliefs.

“It’s an indoctrination program,” she said.

Attorney General Josh Hawley, who is also named as a defendant in the case, pledged in a statement made last year that he would vigorously defend “Missouri’s sensible waiting period law from this challenge by the Satanic Temple in the Missouri Supreme Court.”

Doe’s lawsuit seeks statutory changes to Missouri abortion law. Track the case at the Missouri Supreme Court’s website.

satanic temple
This 2014 photo provided by the Satanic Temple shows a bronze Baphomet, which depicts Satan as a goat-headed figure. AP file photo

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.”

Max Londberg: 816-234-4378, @MaxLondberg

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