Appeals Court Revives Satanic Temple Suit Seeking ‘Religious Exemption’ From Abortion Waiting Period

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — A Missouri appeals court has revived a lawsuit filed by a member of the Satanic Temple who is seeking a “religious exemption” from a state law that requires mothers to wait 72 to hours to obtain an abortion following an ultrasound and the provision of an informational booklet advising that they will be terminating the life of a human being.

“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,” the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District wrote on Tuesday.

As previously reported, the New York-based Satanic Temple announced in 2014 its plan to use the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision to “bolster” an initiative seeking exemptions from pro-life laws that its members claim to violate their religious beliefs.

The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in June of that year that the federal government cannot force closely-held companies to obey regulations which violate the owners’ religious beliefs. Hobby Lobby has been providing birth control coverage to employees for years, but took issue with four contraceptives that it considered to be abortifacients.

The organization therefore decided that it too would seek an exemption from laws that conflict with its beliefs, such as obtaining information or counseling about abortion before ending the unborn child’s life. It states that “[t]he Satanic Temple believes that the body is inviolable, ­­subject to one’s own will alone.”

The Satanic Temple then crafted a letter for abortion-minded women to present at abortion facilities in search of exemptions and waivers from applicable abortion laws.

“As an adherent to the principles of the Satanic Temple, my sincerely held religious beliefs are: My body is inviolable and subject to my will alone. … My inviolable body includes any fetal or embryonic tissue I carry so long as that tissue is unable to survive outside my body as an independent human being,” it reads in part.

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One Missouri woman identified only under the pseudonym “Mary” went to a Planned Parenthood facility in St. Louis to obtain an abortion. As employees advised that she must wait 72 hours to undergo the procedure and must obtain an ultrasound, she then presented them with the letter from the Satanic Temple.

“I personally would have liked to have the procedure done as soon as possible,” “Mary,” who at the time was 12 weeks pregnant, told reporters. “But with all the difficulties, how hard it is do this, it’s been put off for several weeks. If you’re right on the edge of the state you’ve got to go 500 miles just to get to St. Louis, and you have to make arrangements.”

Shortly afterward, she and the Satanic Temple then decided to file suit against the State of Missouri at both the federal and state levels in an effort to obtain an exemption. The organization argued the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was also cited in the Hobby Lobby decision.

“The decision is substantially motivated and informed by Mary Doe’s belief in the Tenets,” the complaint asserted. “Thus its implementation, i.e., getting an abortion, is the ‘exercise of religion’ protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).”

It noted that Doe doesn’t believe “as a matter of religious faith” that life begins at conception, but that she rather feels that she is simply aborting “tissue” that is “part of her body, and not a separate, unique, living human being.” However, it also stated that Doe “felt guilt and shame” for declining to hear the heartbeat of her unborn child during the ultrasound that is required 72 hours before the abortion.

In August 2016, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in concluding that Doe did not have standing as she was no longer pregnant, and did not present the court with evidence of a “threatened injury that is certainly impending and that any future injury is particular and concrete.”

The case was also rejected at the state level as Cole County Judge Joe Beteem ruled that Doe had failed to “state a claim for relief under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” However, the Satanic Temple appealed both cases and the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday that Doe’s case should be heard.

“Because we have determined on preliminary review that Ms. Doe’s claims challenging the validity of certain sections of the Informed Consent Law under the religion clauses are real and substantial and not merely colorable, we order transfer to the Missouri Supreme Court,” wrote Judge Thomas Newton on behalf of the three-judge panel.

“The Missouri legislation is intended to promote a religious belief that abortion is murder, and if you seek to obtain an abortion, you should be ashamed and punished,” Satanic Temple spokesperson Jex Blackmore said in a post following the ruling.

“Mary has clearly suffered as a result of Missouri’s Informed Consent laws,” she asserted. “Are Mary’s beliefs as a Satanist, albeit untraditional, undeserving of protection under the law?”

As previously reported, while the Satanic Temple contends that it is a religious group, it also notes on its website that it is “non-theistic” and does not believe in Satan or the supernatural at all, but only views the devil as a metaphor and a “symbol of the eternal rebel.”

“[W]e do not promote a belief in a personal Satan,” its FAQ section explains. “To embrace the name Satan is to embrace rational inquiry removed from supernaturalism and archaic tradition-based superstitions.”

Some, therefore, consider the group as essentially an atheist effort to make a point about religion.

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