The Missouri Supreme Court has dismissed a lawsuit filed by an anonymous woman challenging Missouri’s informed consent law on abortion and another law which requires a 72-hour waiting period before a woman can obtain an abortion. In a unanimous decision, Missouri’s High Court rejected the legal challenge which was initiated by a New York-based group called The Satanic Temple.
Under Missouri’s informed consent law, which was developed by the Missouri Family Policy Council, a woman seeking an abortion is provided a booklet explaining her options. The booklet provides information concerning the biological development of the unborn child, the nature and risks of abortion procedures, and alternatives to abortion. The woman is also offered the opportunity to view an ultrasound of her preborn child, and to hear the heartbeat of the child if it is audible.
The petitioner, cited as Mary Doe, alleged that the informed consent booklet violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution in pronouncing a “religious tenet” that “the life of each human being begins at conception” and that “abortion terminates the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”
Ms. Doe claims that as a member of the Satanic Temple she believes that “fetal tissue is part of her body and not a…separate human being” and that “her body is inviolable and subject to her will alone.” At the same time, she maintained that she should not be compelled to “cede control to a third party.”
Ms. Doe also contended that the ultrasound provision and the 72-hour waiting period violate the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. She asserted that she is entitled 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.”
In an opinion authored by Judge Laura Denver Stith, the Supreme Court ruled that the provisions of the laws in question did not restrict Mary Doe’s exercise of her religion. The Court pointed out that “nothing in the informed consent law requires a woman seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound, much less to pay for the ultrasound or listen to the fetal heartbeat.”
The Supreme Court also observed that Missouri law does not require a woman seeking an abortion to read the [informed consent] booklet, much less agree to it. The judges also ruled that Ms. Doe had failed to demonstrate how the 72-hour waiting period violated her religious beliefs, or how it imposed an undue burden on her access to abortion.
Chief Justice Zel Fischer issued a concurring opinion that demolished Ms. Doe’s Establishment Clause claims by recounting federal constitutional case law. Fischer cited U.S. Supreme Court precedents that “the Establishment Clause does not ban state regulation of conduct whose reason or effect merely happens to coincide or harmonize with the tenets of some or all religions.”
Judge Fischer opined that “if the mere coincidence of law and religious belief violates the Establishment Clause, then numerous, generally accepted legal proscriptions against murder, theft, and other destructive behavior are also unconstitutional.”
Fischer also explained that previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions on abortion do not limit the State’s authority to “express a value judgment affirming the value of human life…Roe implies no limitation on the authority of a State to make a value judgment favoring childbirth over abortion.”
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt commended the State Supreme Court for their ruling. Schmitt said that Missouri’s 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.”
For reasons that remain unclear, the Satanic Temple has been strangely preoccupied with Missouri’s abortion regulation statutes, despite the fact that many other states now have similar laws on the books. The Satanic Temple filed a similar lawsuit against Missouri’s informed consent law in federal court. A U.S. District Court judge dismissed that lawsuit in August of 2016.
The Satanic Temple organization is a media-hungry group whose name belies its professed purpose. Leaders of the group insist that they do not “worship” Satan. They instead describe themselves as a “benevolent association…of politically aware secularists and advocates for religious liberty.”
The group has gained its greatest notoriety from its past efforts to erect a Satanic monument adjacent to the display of the Ten Commandments outside the Oklahoma State Capitol. Last Christmas, a group called the Satanic Temple of Chicago created a stir by succeeding at placing a Satanic-themed sculpture in the Illinois State Capitol alongside a Christmas tree, Nativity scene, and a menorah.
In a bizarre closing chapter to the Satanic Temple’s Missouri lawsuit, plaintiff Mary Doe now says she tried to withdraw from the case three years ago, but that the attorney for the Satanic Temple “imposed a gag order on her.” She was quoted as saying that the group was “out to make a name [for themselves] and nothing else.