Satanists’ Lawsuit to Fight Missouri’s 72-Hour Abortion Waiting Period Hits a Bump but Rolls On

Last April, I wrote about “Mary,” a Missouri native who wanted an abortion but had to navigate an unnecessary obstacle.


… Planned Parenthood of St. Louis is currently the only abortion provider in the state. Not only does Mary live hundreds of miles away, but there is also a dehumanizing 72 hour waiting period between her initial appointment and the procedure itself. This means that Mary must either find lodging or make the trip twice. She doesn’t have the means to do this.

As it turned out, though, Missouri also had its own version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which provides a defense for people who believe the law restricts their free exercise of religion.

And The Satanic Temple, to which Mary belongs, says that “one’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.” You could argue that the 72-hour waiting period violated her religious beliefs.

Mary soon visited Planned Parenthood requesting to have an abortion. When they told her she had to wait three days, she “presented the clinic with a waiver of exemption” from The Satanic Temple.

It didn’t work. They rejected it. So Mary and the Satanic Temple petitioned for injunction against Governor Jay Nixon and Attorney General Chris Koster.

According to The Satanic Temple’s Lucien Greaves,

… we found it horrifically difficult to secure legal counsel on necessarily short notice. Most every referral and suggestion led us back to the ACLU, which has mysteriously chosen to ignore us entirely. Having exhausted all options we were aware of for pro bono representation, TST has had to retain legal counsel at our own expense

A month later, Nixon and Koster responded to the injunction with a motion to dismiss it:

Plaintiff doesn’t allege that she was substantially motivated by her religious beliefs to seek an abortion. Nor does she allege that she was substantially motivated by her religious beliefs to do so within 72 hours of deciding to end her pregnancy. Rather, Plaintiff alleges that she disagrees with the content of the written materials Missouri law requires abortion providers to give women seeking abortions at least 72 hours before an abortion is performed. But even assuming Plaintiff’s disagreement with the content of those written materials is substantially motivated by her religious beliefs, her disagreement is neither an act nor a failure to act. Nothing in §.188.027 requires Plaintiff to agree with the content of the state-mandated written materials anyway. The statute doesn’t even require that Plaintiff read the materials. It merely requires that the materials are presented to her at least 72 hours before the abortion is performed.

They basically said this shouldn’t be a big deal Sure, we have a law, but it doesn’t really matter, so why complain about it?!

It was one hell of a way to ignore the very real problem that waiting 72 hours before obtaining an abortion was unnecessary and nothing but an obstacle for woman who wish to have an abortion.

Since that didn’t work, The Satanic Temple decided to tackle this problem another way. They filed a federal lawsuit against the state. Instead of dealing with Missouri’s RFRA laws (which the state lawsuit did), this federal suit said Missouri’s laws violated Mary and the Satanic Temple’s Constitutional rights:

The creation, distribution and enforcement of the Missouri Lectionary promotes the Missouri Tenets in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because the State of Missouri is using its power to regulate abortion to promote some, but not all, religious beliefs that Human Tissue is, from conception, a separate and unique human being whose destruction is morally wrong.

Neither the Missouri Tenets nor the Missouri Lectionary promote the religious belief that Human Tissue is part of a woman’s body that may be removed in good conscience without consideration of the current or future condition of the Human Tissue.

Plaintiffs have been and will be irreparably injured by that violation because the Missouri Tenets and Missouri Lectionary are forced upon them with the intent and purpose to influence their Freedom to Believe When Human Life Begins.

It was a bold move and the second way they were trying to open the door to broader abortion rights for women. It also forced the governor to have to explain why his state should be able to override someone’s religious rights (even if that religion happens to be Satanism).

What’s the update on those lawsuits?

The federal lawsuit has not yet been decided. But the state lawsuit was apparently thrown out last month, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

A Cole County judge last month dismissed a Missouri woman’s case claiming the state’s abortion restrictions violate her religious beliefs.

Judge Joe Beteem last month dismissed those claims, saying Doe’s “pleadings fail to allege facts, which if true, state a claim for relief under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

Doe already had the abortion.

Despite the setback, Beteem issued the ruling “without prejudice,” meaning The Satanic Temple could re-submit the lawsuit if they were more specific about how this violated RFRA. And that’s exactly what they did last week.

Lucien Greaves explained in an email:

On January 20th, we filed an amended complaint, which spells out the RFRA claim in explicit detail. This amended complaint has been thoroughly scrutinized by our legal team and we anticipate that it will be sufficient for the case to proceed.

The importance of these lawsuits couldn’t be clearer given new developments in Missouri. While our lawsuits provide just about the only high-profile [pushback] against government intrusion into reproductive rights, the situation in MO has grown ever darker and uglier. Sen. Kurt Schaefer, who provoked a minor outcry for attempting to block a Missouri University graduate student from studying the effects of MO’s mandated 72-hour abortion waiting period, has successfully extended the life of his Senate Interim Committee on the Sanctity of Human Life. The committee, which was originally formed to investigate debunked claims of an underground fetal parts market operating out of Planned Parenthood clinics, betrays religious bias in its very name. Their activities — pursuing and harassing Planned Parenthood executives and employees — have all the trappings of a new inquisition and the nation at large is fighting similar battles in an alarming number of States.

With a regressive trend against abortion in motion, and an unreliable Supreme Court, we feel strongly that Religious Exemptions are the best, and perhaps final, refuge for Freedom of Choice. With this in mind, The Satanic Temple is looking to partner with and/or eventually establish clinics of our own where our deeply-held religious convictions regarding bodily autonomy will have to be respected.

If you’d like to contribute to the Temple’s reproductive rights war chest, you can do that right here.

(Image via Shutterstock. Large portions of this article were posted earlier)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.