Pro-life laws in Missouri have drawn the ire of members of the Satanic Temple, which has filed a lawsuit claiming the laws violate their religious freedom.
State law requires abortion providers to distribute a booklet from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services which includes the statement: “The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”
This law and others drew objections from the Satanic Temple and one of its members, whose lawsuit claims the restrictions violate her religious freedom. The politically active group, based in Salem, Mass., was founded by self-described atheists who profess disbelief in a literal Satan.
The plaintiff goes by the name Mary Doe in the lawsuit, not using her name due to fears of personal attack. In 2015 she traveled to a St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic from southeast Missouri for the abortion.
The lawsuit seeks to block Missouri’s three-day waiting period for an abortion and a requirement that doctors who perform abortions offer the booklet to women seeking abortions. The suit further objects to requirement that abortionists must offer the women an ultrasound and a chance to hear a fetal heartbeat.
The plaintiff’s complaint says her professed tenets include a belief that a woman’s body is “inviolable and subject to her will alone” and that she makes health decisions regarding her health “based on the best scientific understanding of the world,” according to her complaint. The complaint says a pregnancy is “human tissue” and part of her body that “she alone” can decide to remove.
W. James MacNaughton, a New Jersey lawyer, represented her before the Missouri Supreme Court Jan. 23.
“It is a bedrock principle of our culture (and) of our country that we choose for ourselves what to believe by way of religious beliefs,” MacNaughton told the court, according to the Associated Press. “It’s not the business of government to tell us that.”
The Missouri attorney general’s office is defending the restrictions on abortion, saying religious freedom protections do not apply.
Solicitor General John Sauer told the court that such laws would only protect against obstacles to practicing one’s belief or being forced to violate one’s religion.
MacNaughton, the plaintiff’s lawyer, told the Washington Post the lawsuit was prompted by the Hobby Lobby decision favoring the store owners whose Christian beliefs conflicted with federal mandates to provide abortifacient contraceptives in their employee plans.
“I have thought the really defining issue is religion,” he said. “Are you committing murder when you have an abortion? That’s a religious question.”
The Satanic Temple has filed a similar lawsuit in federal court. Its website says its members and allies have provided “religious exemption and legal protection against laws that unscientifically restrict women's reproductive autonomy.”
The group’s founders say they identify with Satan’s putative outsider role.
Lucien Greaves is one of the founders. In a statement, he contended the legal case showed the group is “on the front lines working to restore and preserve Enlightenment values.”
In 2014 the group attempted to stage a re-enactment of a satanic “black mass” at Harvard University, initially claiming it would use a consecrated Host from a Catholic Mass. The Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club had intended to host the event on campus. The event was voluntarily moved from campus and then postponed indefinitely after loss of venue.
The group has also previously engaged in political advocacy.
In 2015 it had planned to place a statue of an occultic Baphomet figure on the grounds of the Oklahoma capitol on religious freedom claims. Shortly afterward, a court ordered the removal of a Ten Commandments monument on the capitol grounds.
In response to a Minnesota town’s debate over a veterans’ memorial that had a cross, the group proposed its own version of a memorial involving pentagrams.