One Small Step for Satanists, One Giant Leap for Abortion Rights?

Larissa Puro/USC Institute for Global Health

The Satanic Temple and its member, identified as Mary Doe, celebrated a victory recently in their case challenging Missouri’s informed consent laws. Missouri Solicitor General D. John Sauer announced that ultrasounds, which are generally perceived as mandatory by abortion providers in the state, are not required to obtain an abortion.

The decision comes in the midst of a legal battle between the Massachusetts-based Satanic Temple and the State of Missouri over state abortion laws that require those seeking an abortion to receive an ultrasound, read a booklet that states, “The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being,” and wait seventy-two hours. The Satanic Temple is taking a unique approach to the lawsuit, arguing that the law prohibits Doe’s right to free exercise of religion by promoting the belief that human life begins at conception (contrary to the belief of Satanists) and by placing substantial burden on her. The case was originally dismissed at the circuit court level because the courts believed Doe was not motivated by religious belief, but last October the Missouri Court of Appeals approved it to be heard by the state Supreme Court.

And thankfully it was. The case recently took a step forward when Missouri’s Solicitor General affirmed that ultrasounds are required to be offered, but not performed, to have an abortion. Missouri’s abortion law is one of the strictest in the country―requiring that patients read a religiously motivated booklet, listen to the fetal heartbeat, (previously) view their ultrasound, and wait three days before undergoing the procedure. These laws intend to shame and burden those seeking abortions by forcing them to consider the state’s own religious opinion and dismissal of scientific facts before receiving treatment.

The announcement by the Solicitor General is a first step to granting those needing an abortion the rights to their own bodies without the interference of a state sponsored faith. Jex Blackmore, the Satanic Temple’s reproductive rights spokesperson, said in a statement, “A ruling against us would demonstrate that the courts believe that religious liberties as they relate to reproductive rights exclusively apply to Christians such as in the Hobby Lobby case.”

The Supreme Court of Missouri has not yet reached a verdict, but if the Satanic Temple succeeds, this case could change how the government identifies religious beliefs and inhibit future efforts from legislators to shame women seeking abortions. “We look forward to proving our case in court, and liberating women of alternative faiths from the State’s oppressive theocratic stranglehold over personal medical health procedures,” Blackmore said. For now, the state’s recent clarification of their abortion law as a result of the case could allow those seeking abortions a certain peace of mind―that they can obtain an abortion without being forced to undergo medically unnecessary procedures intended to manipulate them.