This One Weird Trick Nullifies All Abortion Restrictions

This One Weird Trick Nullifies All Abortion Restrictions July 30, 2014

OK, this is brilliant. The Satanic Temple is asserting that they have a religious-liberty right to ignore abortion restrictions, citing the Hobby Lobby decision:

“While we feel we have a strong case for an exemption regardless of the Hobby Lobby ruling, the Supreme Court has decided that religious beliefs are so sacrosanct that they can even trump scientific fact. This was made clear when they allowed Hobby Lobby to claim certain contraceptives were abortifacients, when in fact they are not. Because of the respect the Court has given to religious beliefs, and the fact that our our beliefs are based on best available knowledge, we expect that our belief in the illegitimacy of state mandated ‘informational’ material is enough to exempt us, and those who hold our beliefs, from having to receive them.”

I wrote in a previous post about how the Supreme Court has unleashed chaos, creating a brand-new religious right to opt out of complying with seemingly any law. Well, if that’s the way things are going to go, there’s no reason that only right-wingers can or should exploit this decision. The least we can do is use it to our advantage, and there’s no better proving ground than the blizzard of abortion restrictions that state legislatures have passed over the last few years.

Anti-choice conservatives have shown enormous creativity when it comes to putting obstacles between women and their constitutional rights: mandatory waiting periods to inconvenience those who have to travel and take time off work; state-written scripts, full of falsehoods about the supposed dangers of abortion, that doctors are forced to read; mandatory, medically unnecessary ultrasounds whose only purpose is to shame and humiliate; bans on safe and simple medication-induced abortions or D&E-type surgical abortions; and pointless regulations, like requiring clinics to be retrofitted as “ambulatory surgical centers” or requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, that are intended to be too difficult or too expensive to comply with.

The Hobby Lobby decision could sweep all these away. If family planning clinics assert that they’re owned and managed by people with sincere religious objections to these laws, the Supreme Court has spoken and said clearly that they have a religious-liberty right to ignore them. No more waiting periods, no more scripts for doctors to read, no more bans on medication abortion, no more having to comply with TRAP laws: all these regulations must come to naught against the bulwark of religious liberty. The precedents for this were already in place – for example, church-owned daycare centers don’t have to follow the same safety guidelines as secular alternatives, and church-owned businesses can hire and fire without regard to anti-discrimination laws – but Hobby Lobby makes that path broad, straight and flat.

I grant that the optics of Planned Parenthood reorganizing as an arm of the Satanic Temple might not be so attractive. But there are plenty of alternatives. There are any number of liberal, choice-friendly churches whom I’m sure would be happy to lend their imprimatur to this effort. How about Unitarian Universalism, or Reform Judaism? This would have the bonus that many liberal churches can genuinely cite a longstanding and deeply held tradition of supporting reproductive freedom, one that’s been previously recognized as such by the courts (although that isn’t even essential; Hobby Lobby continues to do business with China, for example, a state with a policy of forced abortion. Apparently it doesn’t matter if your religious belief is newly discovered or exercised inconsistently; it only matters that you assert it.)

And purely secular groups could get in on the act too. After all, as courts have repeatedly recognized, a sincerely held personal philosophical belief is just as good as a religious belief for conscientious-objector purposes. This was reaffirmed most recently this month in Indiana, when a federal court granted the Center for Inquiry the right to certify people as secular celebrants with the power to solemnize marriages, striking down a discriminatory law that limited this privilege to clergy. Why can’t we also cite our sincerely held beliefs as a reason to ignore anti-abortion laws that we don’t like?

I’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t an ideal or desirable way for a democratic society to operate. Religion shouldn’t be an excuse to opt out of any neutral and generally applicable law passed in furtherance of a rational state purpose. We should have one law for all people, regardless of their beliefs or lack thereof.

But the simple historical truth is that this isn’t how our society works now. The Hobby Lobby decision was the culmination of a decades-long campaign by the American religious right to build a legal framework of nullification, where religion operates as a special privilege to exempt oneself from the law. If they’re so determined to make this part of American constitutional jurisprudence, then it’s right and fitting that we give them a taste of their own medicine. I want to see their reaction when clinics in red states start filing religious-liberty challenges to anti-choice laws. Who’ll be the first?

Postscript: One possible complication is that the Hobby Lobby decision was based on RFRA, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which doesn’t apply to state laws as per City of Boerne v. Flores. However, 19 states have their own versions of RFRA and would be fertile ground for a challenge like this. It could also potentially be used to challenge federal abortion restrictions, particularly the Hyde Amendment. In any case, Hobby Lobby is brand-new precedent and no one is in a position yet to make any definite statement about how far it extends.

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  • 8DX

    Sadly, this will probably not work.

  • Even if it doesn’t work, forcing those in support of the original Hobby Lobby ruling to create reasons why it will not work will be interesting indeed.
    Not every blow needs to be a victory, sometimes putting your opponents off balance can be beneficial, especially when you’re punching up like in this case.

  • Yeah, the more they “narrow down” the decision, the more obvious it’ll be that it was really a special privilege given to a specific set of believers.

  • Jeremy Shaffer

    It probably won’t, just as the legislation recently proposed in the Senate as an answer to all the burdensome state regulations targeting abortion providers won’t pass (specifically the House) but that doesn’t always have to be the point of something like this. Often it’s enough just to make the opposition choke and flounder a little as they come up with reasons to reject it that serve to highlight what is really wrong with it all in the first place. Sometimes it may even be more effective in the long run if it doesn’t work.

  • Azkyroth

    MReligion shouldn’t be an excuse to opt out of any neutral and generally applicable law passed in furtherance of a rational state purpose.

    But that’s not what you’re proposing here.

  • arensb

    No, that’s what the Hobby Lobby decision was.
    The Satanic Temple is just saying that you can exploit that decision to use religion to opt out of a religiously-motivated law passed in furtherance of an irrational state purpose.

  • Jeff

    Heck, the Hobby Lobby ruling itself already includes language to that effect.

  • L.Long

    I hope the Satanists make some sort of a splash in this issue.

    As a side point …what rule do xtians use to say abortion is against gawd????
    The buyBull states very clearly that a fetus has ZERO worth (
    Also after getting the 10 BadSuggestions from Moses, the Hebrews 1st acts were to preform hundreds of abortions maybe even thousands!!! So where do they get the statement that they can’t do so??? So since the buyBull puts the fetus at ZERO worth then what is so wrong with contraception?????
    Yes I do know the basic reason for the dislike of contraception is just basic women hating bigotry and political control and has absolutely nothing to do with some vague ‘gawd rule’.

  • GCT

    The verse I hear most often used for it is the one that claims that god knew you in the womb (Jeremiah 1:5). This is extrapolated into a defense of the idea that one must have a soul while in the womb, otherwise what would there be for god to know of you? It’s horrible post-hoc reasoning, but it’s about the only thing I’ve heard that they can directly quote.

  • Rennyrij

    I have this undercurrent-type feeling that, until the big money checks from the Religious Right no longer cash, the media will not get behind any non-christian person to help elevate him/her to a position of leadership in this sort of controversy. Even if the Satanist Temple, (as opposed to the Satanist Church; they are two practically opposite belief groups, and you’d better look them both up before you make comment!) makes it big in the news, it won’t be the positive ideas that get attention. Words will be twisted, and insults thrown; ideas manipulated to make the worst of them. We need “fresh ears”, in order to hear the messages and discern the truth for ourselves. I wish the Satanist Temple folks the best of luck in their attempt to shake up the courts and get some people to actually think outside “the Book”.

  • Is this the same Satanic Temple that is putting up a statue to a god on the Oklahoma City grounds, in response to a Ten Commandments display? Those guys are on a roll.

  • BLM4L

    Another possible complication is that the Satanic Temple is not a pregnant woman seeking an abortion, and therefore the informed consent laws do not apply to it? Unless Satanists LITERALLY run the abortion clinics (I knew it!) and would be compelled to distribute the abortion information.

    The Satanic Temple – for all its claims of rationalism and knowledge – is pretty stupid and ignorant on law. Worse, they are not even good at trolling.

  • BLM4L

    How about “the Satanic Temple is neither an abortion clinic nor a pregnant woman, so the informed consent laws do not apply to them, so why do they need an exemption?”

  • JamesMMartin

    Perhaps Satanists will open clinics and hire doctors and private security and charge fees commensurate with ability to pay so that women needing abortions could have them. In Texas, for example, because the legislature has reduced the maximum time in gestation below that of Roe v. Wade, the clinic could simply say, “This is a religious organization and we believe Satan wants Man to indulge, not supplicate. Our God is fine with abortions at any time up to six months. We insist on this exemption so that Rosemary can have an abortion rather than a baby. This is our right pursuant to the decision in Hobby Lobby.”

  • Martin Penwald

    I don’t know if it is in their book, but I think I have already seen signs saying flatly that their sky-daddy know them before they were born, without implying anything about conception.

    Some kind of big plan with the knowing of destiny of every past, present and future human being.

    So in this case, it means one doesn’t have to exist at all (and have a supposed soul) to be recognise by the guy in the sky.

  • The title of this piece made me laugh. Nice work, Adam!

  • L.Long

    Well they may say gawd knows them before birth but

    that is man putting words in gawds moth as gawd may be talking about the spirit world and their soul before actual birth. And their buyBull still says in actual words that gawd gives them no value. So we are right back to women hating male bigots that are making up schite so that women suffer and have little joy.

  • Yep! Also the ones who semi-successfully planned to hold a Black Mass at Harvard earlier this summer. They’re a merry band of pranksters, no doubt about it.

  • The thing about that verse that apologists never mention is that it isn’t a general statement to all humanity; it’s directed specifically to Jeremiah, whom God specially predestined to be a prophet.

    It also says that God knew him before he was even in the womb. Maybe the religious right should start pushing for personhood laws for pre-conceived children.

  • Well said. I really want to hear some right-wing judge or legislator try to explain why this principle applies in one case but not the other. It’s possible that would even help us; if it forces them to narrow the scope of Hobby Lobby so much that it won’t be a useful precedent for any other case, it will limit the damage done.

  • They should be the atheist shock troops, but on the front lines wherever things are most difficult.

    Maybe I should try to make contact with these guys. All I ever hear about them is from news reports.

  • Martin Penwald

    So it is all a Grand Plan, absolutely no link to abortion.
    The other possibility is that every ovule and every spermatozoid ever produced has to be used for reproduction. It gonna be fun.

  • Black Leaf

    Never mind that something along the lines of 50% of all fertilized eggs fail to implant or miscarry without any outside influence. If he exists, their god is the most prolific abortionist of all.

  • Nerdsamwich

    What they did was to print out a form letter for use by those who do need it, expressing that person’s religious-liberty exemption to the regulations in question.