The Satanic Temple is asserting a free exercise right to abortion as a religious ritual in lawsuits against the state of Missouri and against a Louisiana advertising agency.
Doe v. Parson
On September 24, 2020, a member of the Satanic Temple, “Judy Doe,” asked the Supreme Court to decide whether a state can require a woman seeking an abortion to submit to a waiting period when her religious belief is that a fetus is not a separate human being.
The case involves a 2014 Missouri state law that proclaimed that “the life of each human being begins at conception” and requires women seeking abortions to wait for three days after receiving proclamation to have an abortion.
According to the petition, a core belief of the Satanic Temple is that a woman’s body “is inviolable and subject to her will alone and a “non-viable fetus is part of her body and be removed ‘in good conscience … on demand and without regard to its current or future condition.'”
The petitioner claims that the Missouri statute, widely viewed as an effort to persuade women against having abortions, is predicated on a religious issue. However, religion is not identified as the rationale.
The filing is an appeal of the 8th Circuit’s decision in Doe v. Parson, No. 19-1578 (8th Cir. 2020). The Circuit framed the issue in terms of Doe and Missouri having a different opinion on when life begins. The 8th Circuit notes that even though Doe has claimed that the idea that life begins at conception is “Catholic dogma,” “[t]he problem with this theory is that a state does not establish religion by passing a law that just ‘happens to coincide or harmonize with the tenets of some or all religions.'” Harris v. McRae, 448 U.S. 297, 319 (1980) (quoting McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420, 442 (1961), which upheld the Hyde Amendment’s ban on publicly funded abortions.
Even if the state’s publication of its view that life begins at conception is divisive, the Circuit continued, it does not constitute an establishment of religion. The Circuit cited the Supreme Court ruling in Gonzalez v. Carhart, 550 U.S. 124, 157 (2007) that a state could use “its voice . . . to show its profound respect for life.”
While the courts have typically addressed abortion in the context of a “right to privacy,” the Supreme Court has not directly addressed the issue in a religious liberty right to obtain an abortion.
As of this writing, the state has not yet responded to the Petition, although the state solicitor general told a lower court that this is not a matter of religious freedom.
The Satanic Temple’s Religious Abortion Ritual Billboard Controversy
Along with the filing of the lawsuit at the U.S. Supreme Court, the Satanic Temple has begun a public relations campaign to promote the “religious abortion ritual,” which recommends that certain tenets of their belief be recited during an abortion procedure. The apparent goal is to expand the idea that abortion is a religious practice subject to “free exercise of religion” under the First Amendment.
According to the Satanic Temple, the ritual “includes the abortive procedure into a sacramental act that confirms the right of bodily autonomy, wards off the effects of unjust persecution, and reasserts as ideals the dual paths of reason and confidence.”
On September 27, 2020, the Satanic Temple sued a Louisiana advertising agency, Lamar Advertising, for religious discrimination when it refused to post billboards promoting the abortion ritual outside several pro-life pregnancy counseling centers in several cities throughout the Southern United States. According to pictures of the proposed billboards in the complaint, the advertising featured the Satanic Temple pentagram logo and said, “Our Religious Abortion Restriction Averts Many State Restrictions.” One had a photo of two women talking, and one said, “Susan, you’re telling me I do not have to endure a waiting period when I have an abortion? That’s true if you’re a Satanist.” Another had a picture of Hitler and said, “What if abortion had been an option.” The third poster claimed that abortion saves lives that are lost due to pregnancy complications.
Lamar has previously posted billboards on pro-life themes.
While these cases are attracting widespread attention, as of this writing, the Satanic Temple’s unambiguous strategy has not been endorsed by major abortion-rights advocacy organizations.
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