A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Satanic organization challenging Missouri’s informed consent law on abortion. In an action that drew little to no attention from the secular media, U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey last month granted the state’s motion to dismiss the litigation filed by a group called the Satanic Temple.
Missouri’s informed consent law, adopted by the General Assembly in 2010, requires that women considering abortion be provided information concerning the nature, risks, and alternatives to abortion. The Missouri Family Policy Council was the leading force behind the statute, and we drafted most of its language.
The information required under the law is presented to an abortion-minded woman through a booklet prepared by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. That booklet, which the Satanic Temple describes as the “Missouri Lectionary,” includes descriptions and images of the anatomic features of the preborn child at two-week gestational increments of development.
The printed information also includes the scientific statement that “the life of each human being begins at conception,” and “abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being,” which the Satanic group calls the “Missouri Tenets.”
Members of the Satanic Temple argue that these basic biological facts violate their “religious” convictions. The plaintiffs assert their belief that an unborn child is “human tissue” that is part of a woman’s body, and that “she may in good conscience have human tissue removed from her body.” The plaintiff’s petition says that it is a “scientific fact that an umbilical cord makes human tissue part of a woman’s body.”
Attorneys for the Satanic Temple contend that “all women have the right…to exercise their freedom to believe when human life begins.” The lawsuit alleges that it is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution for the State of Missouri to acknowledge the biological truths regarding how and when human life begins, and to “compel exposure to [these] religious beliefs.”
The lawsuit also takes aim at a law adopted by the Missouri Legislature in 2014 which extended the waiting period for an abortion from 24 to 72 hours. The Satanic Temple says that the combination of the informed consent and waiting period laws “encourage a pregnant woman…to forego an abortion,” and “create doubt, guilt, and shame in the mind of a pregnant woman who does not believe the Missouri Tenets.”
Judge Autrey did not rule on the merits of the case, but instead concluded that the Satanic Temple did not have legal standing to bring the lawsuit. In order to establish standing, a plaintiff must demonstrate “an injury in fact” that is “particular and concrete.” Judge Autrey decided that the Satanic group had failed to satisfy the concrete injury element.
The decision by the Satanic cult to challenge these pro-life laws was not enthusiastically embraced by pro-abortion advocates. Planned Parenthood and abortion rights attorneys chose not to challenge the informed consent and waiting period laws when they were adopted. They admitted that the reason they did not was because there was little likelihood they would prevail in federal court. Even the ACLU chose to ignore appeals by the Satanic Temple for representation.
That is because there is clear Supreme Court precedent supporting the actions of the Missouri Legislature. In the major controlling case from 1992, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the High Court declared that “while a woman has a right to terminate her pregnancy before viability, it does not follow that the State is prohibited from taking steps to ensure that this choice is thoughtful and informed.”
The Casey decision made clear that a state may provide “truthful, nonmisleading information” about the nature of the abortion procedure, the attendant health risks, and the probable gestational age of the fetus.” In so doing, the justices observed “the state [reduces] the risk that a woman may elect an abortion, only to discover later, with devastating psychological consequences, that her decision was not fully informed.”
“We permit a State to further its legitimate goal of protecting the life of the unborn by enacting legislation aimed at ensuring a decision that is mature and informed, even when, in doing so, the State expresses a preference for childbirth over abortion,” the High Court wrote in its decision.*
The Satanic Temple is based in New York City. The challenge to Missouri’s pro-life laws is part of the group’s “Religious Reproductive Rights Project.” The group first gained national notoriety two years ago when it sought to place a monument to Satan on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol next to a monument containing the Ten Commandments.
The group’s effort became moot last year when the Oklahoma Supreme Court ordered the Ten Commandments monument removed from the Capitol grounds, saying that it amounted to unconstitutional state support to religion. Oklahoma voters will cast ballots this fall on a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the monument to be reinstated.
We will have more to report on the latest efforts of the Satanic Temple in a future Jeff City Update.
*Please note that Missouri’s informed consent and waiting period laws could be struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court if the next President appoints additional pro-abortion justices to the Supreme Court.