Judge Tosses Out Satanic Temple’s 2015 Abortion Lawsuit Because Plaintiff is No Longer Pregnant

More than a year ago, I wrote about “Mary,” a Missouri native who wanted an abortion but had to navigate an unnecessary obstacle.

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… 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 offered a defense for people who believed the law restricted their free exercise of religion.

And The Satanic Temple, to which Mary belongs, said that “one’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.” So they argued 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 wished to have an abortion.

Since that didn’t work, The Satanic Temple tackled the 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 another 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).

That federal lawsuit was in limbo for more than a year… but a judge finally tossed it out this week for the worst possible reason:

According to the dismissal, the plaintiffs have no standing to sue because the woman “is not now pregnant.”

The ruling comes down more than a year after the suit was filed — well after the plaintiff, known as Mary Doe, would have given birth. US District Judge Henry Edward Autrey, who handed down the decision, seemed to ignore the Satanic Temple’s religious freedom argument entirely, instead writing that because Doe is no longer pregnant, “there is no guaranty [sic] that she will become pregnant in the future, and that if she does, she will seek an abortion, thus, Plaintiffs’ injuries are not sufficiently concrete for the Court to order the requested relief.

That’s an unbelievable argument right there, regardless of whether it’s legally sound. The only way Mary Doe would’ve had standing, according to this judge, would have been to remain pregnant for more than a full year. He also says she can’t sue over this because there’s no telling if this situation will arise again.

But if it does, then what? Then we’re right back to where we began, with Doe forced to waste her time for 72 hours. If she files a lawsuit, how long will it take to get a real response?

University of Pennsylvania Professor Marci A. Hamilton also finds the decision absurd:

This is truly a non-sequitur. Moreover, whether or not she is ever pregnant again, she was, so this is a classic constitutional violation that is “capable of repetition, yet evading review,” which makes it possible for women to sue for their right to abortion, but is also used in other cases including this Term.

She adds that the “standing decision surely will be overturned.”

The Satanic Temple’s spokesperson Lucien Greaves told me they will be appealing so that Mary Doe and other women in her position don’t have to jump over these unnecessary hurdles just because government officials want to control their bodies for as long as possible.

(Image via Shutterstock. Large portions of this article were posted earlier. Thanks to Brian for the link)

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