Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Satanic Temple Versus Abortion Restrictions

The Missouri case brought by The Satanic Temple challenging two abortion restrictions in the state has been working its way through the court system since 2015. On Monday, arguments before a state court finally began in the case. The case really should be a slam dunk according to the constitution, especially with regards to the requirement that anyone seeking an abortion consider a bunch of made-up propaganda supplied by conservative Christian groups. A legal argument could possibly be made for a waiting period in general, but if that period is intended to force those seeking abortion to "consider" the religious beliefs of a particular denomination, that also represents a clear-cut violation of church and state separation.

Missouri’s recent stroke of good fortune in the reproductive rights realm may have to do with intervention from the fiery underworld. On Monday, the Satanic Temple argued in a Missouri court that the state’s abortion restrictions violate worshippers’ rights to free religious practice. The organization is challenging two Missouri laws: one that requires patients to look at unscientific anti-abortion propaganda and another that forces them to wait 72 hours between their initial consultations and a second appointments for their abortions. Satanic Temple members argue that their religion prizes rational, independent thought and that forcing Satanists to read anti-abortion pamphlets and “consider a religious proposition with which they do not agree” during the 72-hour waiting period constitutes a violation of their beliefs.

The Satanic challenge to the laws began in 2015, when a pregnant Satanist from rural Missouri identified as “Mary” tried to use a religious waiver to exempt herself from the state’s many requirements designed to prevent women from going forward with abortions. Mary said she had the $800 she needed to get the abortion, but to get to the clinic in St. Louis for two separate appointments, she needed to save up for gas money, a hotel, and child care. As a Satanist, Mary said, she believes her body is “inviolable”—thus, a mandatory waiting period with no medical justification that hampers her bodily autonomy inflicts a “substantial burden” on her “sincerely held religious beliefs,” as does the law that requires she be informed that “abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.” The temple filed both state and federal lawsuits challenging the restrictions; a judge tossed out the federal case in 2016 because Mary was no longer pregnant.

Regardless of whether or not you approve of abortion, it seems to me that the whole idea of having to sit through a bunch of propaganda that has been repeatedly debunked by actual science (that is, lies) is laughable. Or at least it should be. It's the kind of nonsense that you would expect to find in a totalitarian dictatorship like the world of George Orwell's 1984, not the United States. Informing people of the real risks of abortion before they have one is reasonable. Informing them of imaginary ones? Not so much. And as for the waiting period restrictions, those become more onerous as the number of abortion providers in a state declines, especially for people who live in rural areas far from large cities where most clinics are located.

So far most of The Satanic Temple's legal victories have been largely symbolic, like over whether religious monuments get displayed in particular places, or whether members of minority religions get to offer prayers at public functions. But if they win this one, the ruling will make a big difference in peoples' lives. And it seems to me that it falls right in line with the push for "religious freedom" that the evangelicals are always on about. If you have different beliefs about abortion than conservative Christians do, the law should respect that.

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