Bedeviling the Anti-Choice Crusade

For antiabortion crusaders hell bent on chipping away at women’s right to choose, it really does seem like the devil is in the details. Now the Satanic Temple is suing the state of Missouri for its abortion law that they claim violates their members’ free exercise of religion and the Establishment Clause.

Of the twenty-seven states that enforce a mandatory waiting period between an initial appointment and the procedure, Missouri’s law is the strictest in its requirement that an individual seeking an abortion must wait a full seventy-two hours. No doubt some time is needed to fulfill the other requirements ordered by this law, including reading a booklet that claims a fetus can feel pain at twenty weeks post-fertilization and that life begins at conception, viewing their ultrasound, and listening to the fetal heartbeat. It’s clear this law attempts to manipulate and shame those seeking abortions by holding them hostage in some sort of purgatory while they “think about what they’ve done,” or in this case, what they’re about to do and, as a result, change their minds.

There’s no question—abortion laws like the one in Missouri disregard medical claims in favor of Christian ideology. These laws are as close as the state can get to outlawing abortion without violating Roe v. Wade, and they do so by intentionally influencing those seeking abortions through exploitative theatrics and the misrepresentation of data.

And that’s where Satan comes in. The Massachusetts-based Satanic Temple filed a complaint against the State of Missouri in 2015 on behalf of a member—identified as Mary Doe—who sought an abortion. The lawsuit claims that Doe took time off work and paid for a hotel room to drive over three hours to a Planned Parenthood, where in accordance with the Missouri law, she was told she needed to receive an ultrasound, read a booklet, and wait three days to have her abortion.

But as a member of the Satanic Temple, Mary believes in two things: “One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone,” and, “Beliefs should conform to [one’s] best scientific understanding of the world. [One] should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit [their] beliefs.” The temple argues that by promoting the belief that human life begins at conception and by placing substantial burden on her, the Missouri law prohibits Doe from obtaining an abortion in accordance with her beliefs and thus violates her free exercise of religion.

Under the Missouri Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the government is prohibited from burdening the free exercise of religion unless it has a compelling reason to do so and is utilizing the least restrictive means possible. The State of Missouri argued that RFRA is invalid in this instance because Doe was not motivated by religious beliefs, but simple disagreement. The claim was originally rejected at the circuit court level, but earlier this month the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District ruled in favor of Doe, allowing the case to be heard by the state Supreme Court, “Because we believe that this case raises real and substantial constitutional claims, it is within the Missouri Supreme Court’s exclusive jurisdiction under Article V, section 3 of the Missouri Constitution, and we hereby order its transfer.”

As a secular nation, the state should not be creating laws founded on religious ideology to begin with, and doing so should constitute a violation of the Establishment Clause. This decision is a small win for reproductive rights, but much is still up in the air. A victory for Doe could change how the government identifies religious beliefs and inhibit efforts from legislators to shame women seeking abortions. But it is going to be an uphill battle.

Trump has made every effort to curtail reproductive rights in favor of conservative religious causes, repeating these intentions in his speech at the Values Voter Summit earlier this month. Right now his administration is blocking a pregnant seventeen-year-old girl from obtaining an abortion. The teen, also identified as Jane Doe, escaped domestic abuse in her home country and was seized at the border by immigration authorities and placed in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). After finding out she was pregnant, she opted to have an abortion (paid for with private funds) but was blocked by HHS. Doe had already obtained court permission for the abortion, was assigned a legal guardian, and attended one session of pre-abortion counseling (all pre-requisites in Texas), after which she was given the option of returning to her abusers in her home country, or carrying the pregnancy to full term. To make matters worse, the administration has already delayed her case a month, increasing the risks associated with the procedure and limiting the time she has left to undergo an abortion.

This most recent example of the lengths the Trump administration will go to take away a woman’s right to make an informed choice regarding her own body is beyond monstrous, and yet again reveals the current administration’s true intentions. The Administration for Children and Families at the US Department of Health and Human Services commented, “For however much time we are given, the Office of Refugee Resettlement and HHS will protect the well-being of this minor and all children and their babies in our facilities, and we will defend human dignity for all in our care.” Trump has publicized time and time again that he couldn’t care less about undocumented immigrants. Why is it that human dignity is only ascribed to a fetus? How far do we have to go to ensure the administration respects the dignity, rights, and bodily autonomy of individuals seeking abortions?