Missouri woman who claims state's abortion laws 'violate' her satanic beliefs loses fight

A woman receives an ultrasound by a nurse practitioner during a prenatal exam.
A woman receives an ultrasound by a nurse practitioner during a prenatal exam. | REUTERS/Joshua Lott

Missouri's Supreme Court has dismissed a Satanic Temple member's religious challenge to the state’s informed consent law, which required her to wait 72 hours and gave her the opportunity to view an ultrasound before having an abortion.

On Wednesday, Supreme Court judges ruled against the plaintiff, an anonymous member of the Satanic Temple listed as Mary Doe.

Doe alleged that her religious rights were violated by a state law requiring women seeking abortions be provided with a booklet that says "the life of each human being begins at conception." Abortion providers also must give women a chance to view an ultrasound and hear the baby's heartbeat.

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But in their ruling, the judges wrote that Doe didn't have to read the booklet and could have declined the ultrasound: "It simply provides her with that opportunity," they wrote.

The case stems back to 2015, when Doe traveled from southeastern Missouri to St. Louis in for an abortion at Planned Parenthood. At the time, she gave a letter to her doctors explaining that some of the state's restrictions on abortion conflict with her beliefs.

“Specifically, her letter advised she has deeply held religious beliefs that a nonviable fetus is not a separate human being but is part of her body and that abortion of a nonviable fetus does not terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being,” notes the case.

“Her letter further absolved the doctors of their responsibility to deliver the booklet to her or to wait 72 hours before performing her abortion, advising them she voluntarily, freely and without coercion was choosing to have the abortion that day. The clinic, however, refused her request. Instead, as required by the law, it gave Doe an ultrasound and the opportunity to listen to the fetal heartbeat.”

Missouri is one of five states that have a 72 hour waiting period for abortions. Doe, who eventually had an abortion, told local media that as an adherent to the principles of the Satanic Temple, she believes her body is inviolable, subject to her own will alone.

"I personally would have liked to have the procedure done as soon as possible," she said. "But with all the difficulties, how hard it is to do this, it's been put off for several weeks. If you're right on the edge of the state you've got to go 500 miles just to get to St. Louis, and you have to make arrangements."

The Satanic Temple filed state and federal lawsuits on behalf of Doe in May 2015 and launched crowd-funding efforts on multiple websites to raise the funds to help the woman get her abortion, raising over $45,000.

"Please contribute to The Satanic Temple's legal aid fund to offer exemptions against, and actively challenge, arbitrary, insulting, and outright harmful anti-abortion legislation," stated the Temple on the IndieGoGo page.

Following Wednesday’s ruling, the woman's attorney, James MacNaughton, said they're disappointed, but added that there might be "some small measure of vindication" if the court ruling means women can turn down ultrasounds and still receive abortions.

In turn, Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt's spokesman, Chris Nuelle, told the AP his office applauds the ruling, as the measure is "designed to protect women from undue pressure and coercion during the sensitive decision of whether or not to have an abortion."

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