Pro-abortion activists have adopted a new legal strategy against pro-life laws in Missouri, challenging them as violations of religious liberty protections. In 2016, a self-avowed Satanist sued the state, claiming its abortion regulations are “religious tenets” and therefore a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Admendment of the U.S. Constitution and Missouri’s Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA). The case now heads to the state’s Supreme Court for what could be a final decision.
A county court twice last year dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the plaintiff, identified as “Mary Doe,” did not have standing and failed to state an actionable claim. The woman was not pregnant when she filed the lawsuit, so the law did not apply to her and did not prevent her from having an abortion. But in a 3-0 decision, the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District found some redeeming value in the plaintiff’s twisted view of the law and ruled Oct. 3 that the case “raises real and substantial constitutional claims” only the high court can address.
The original complaint, filed last year in Cole County Circuit Court, challenged the state’s informed consent law and is rife with religious language illuminating the plaintiff’s claim that the statute amounts to religious canon. The law’s declarations that life “begins at conception” and abortion terminates “the life of a separate, unique, living human being” form the “Missouri Tenet,” the plaintiff claims. She calls the list of compelled actions the “Missouri Lectionary”: Abortion providers must present women a booklet detailing gestational development, offer an ultrasound and heartbeat monitoring, and make women wait 72 hours before having the abortion.
Women are not required to accept the information, ultrasound, or heartbeat monitoring but must acknowledge in writing they received the offer. In earlier complaints, the plaintiff contended enduring the offer is an affront to her “Satanic Tenets” and violates RFRA because only she has the right to decide when life begins and when to remove “human tissue” from her body.
“But plaintiff does not claim a deeply held religious belief against complying with ‘irrelevant and unnecessary’ regulations,” Cole County Circuit Judge Jon E. Beetem wrote in dismissing the RFRA claims. “Rather, she claims the regulations are irrelevant and unnecessary because they were motivated by a religious belief she does not share.”
That logic would strike down a host of laws, Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Kevin Theriot told me. Just because a law is based on a commonly held religious tenet (such as God’s commandment against murder) does not constitute a state establishment of religion.
If the plaintiff persisted in her appeals, the case would have ended up before the Missouri Supreme Court regardless of the appeals court decision, according to Theriot. But the appeals court could have followed the two previous judges’ rulings and dismissed the case. Instead, its unanimous decision to transfer the case lends credence to the “religious tenets” claim and the Establishment Clause violation, Theriot said.
On the bright side: If the Missouri Supreme Court rules the abortion law is indeed a “religious tenet,” affirming the Satanist’s religious tenets in the process, it could aid efforts to defund Planned Parenthood as a religious institution—because the abortion giant’s doctrine on human life is drawn from the same canon as Mary Doe’s.