A Member Of The Satanic Temple Loses Her Challenge To Missouri's Abortion Law
This story was updated to include the comments of Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt.
An adherent of The Satanic Temple who challenged Missouri’s informed consent law on abortion, claiming it violated her First Amendment rights, has lost her case in the Missouri Supreme Court.
The law requires women seeking an abortion to acknowledge receipt of a booklet stating that life begins at conception and that abortion “will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”
Mary Doe – not her real name – became pregnant in February 2015 and went to obtain an abortion at Planned Parenthood’s clinic in St. Louis in May 2015. She told her doctors that she held religious beliefs contrary to those stated in the booklet and absolved them of responsibility to abide by the informed consent law's requirements.
Planned Parenthood refused her request. Instead it made her wait 72 hours and gave her the opportunity to undergo an ultrasound, two other provisions of the informed consent law, before performing the abortion.
In her lawsuit, which she filed during the 72-hour waiting period, Doe claimed the law violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which prohibits the government from establishing an official religion or favoring one religion over another. She also claimed it restricted her free exercise of religion under the Missouri Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Doe argued that under the Satanic Temple’s tenets, her “body is inviolable and subject to her will alone,” she was required to make health-related decisions “based on the best scientific understanding of the world, even if the science does not comport with the religious or political beliefs of others,” and fetal tissue “is part of her body and not a separate, unique, living human being.”
A Cole County judge dismissed the case, and Doe appealed to the Missouri Court of Appeals. Believing the case raised “real and substantial constitutional claims,” the court of appeals transferred the case to the Missouri Supreme Court.
In upholding the case’s dismissal, the Supreme Court ruled that Missouri’s informed consent law does not adopt any religious tenet, as Doe claimed. And it noted that the law did not require Doe to read the booklet.
“This Court need not determine whether requiring Ms. Doe to have an ultrasound, to listen to the fetal heartbeat, or to read the booklet offered by Planned Parenthood would have constituted a restriction on her religious freedom, for the statute imposes no such requirements,” Judge Laura Denver Stith wrote for the court. The law merely requires that a woman seeking an abortion be presented with those opportunities, Stith said.
In a brief concurring opinion, Chief Justice Zell M. Fischer declared that the U.S. Supreme Court “has made it clear that state speech is not religious speech solely because it ‘happens to coincide’ with a religious tenet.”
W. James McNaughton, a New Jersey attorney who represented Doe, said he was “disappointed but not surprised” by the decision.
“The court really avoided dealing with the issues,” he said.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, whose office defended the informed consent law, released a statement saying that the informed consent law “is a common sense measure designed to protect women from undue pressure and coercion during the sensitive decision of whether or not to have an abortion, and we applaud the Missouri Supreme Court’s decision in this case.”
Despite its name, The Satanic Temple does not worship “Satan.” Rather, the group is a nontheistic religious and activist group that describes its mission as encouraging “benevolence and empathy among all people.” It has challenged Bible clubs in schools, statues of the Ten Commandments on public grounds and other instances of what it considers to be breaches of the wall between church and state.
Another adherent of the Satanic Temple, “Judy Doe,” has challenged Missouri’s informed consent law in federal court. Doe is also represented by McNaughton. That case is pending.
Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.