Yesterday, a judge threw out a federal lawsuit filed by the Satanic Temple on behalf of a woman who felt that Missouri's onerous abortion restrictions violated her religious beliefs. 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."
According to state law, if a woman wants to terminate her pregnancy, she must first read an "informed consent booklet" given to her by Planned Parenthood and then wait 72 hours to reflect over her decision before undergoing the procedure. There is currently only one abortion provider left in the state, which means that women who live a long distance from that clinic must make an extensive round-trip twice in order to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.
Doe refused to review this material, which includes a section maintaining that life begins at conception. She said it goes against her belief as a Satanist that she can make her own decisions regarding her health. But Planned Parenthood had to comply with state law, and she was forced nonetheless to undergo the three-day waiting period before getting the procedure.
Members of the Satanic Temple, a nontheistic religion and activist group, believe the state's restrictive laws on abortion—some of the harshest in the country—violate their followers' First Amendment right to religious freedom. Two of the Temple's central tenets are that one's body is inviolable, subject to one's own will alone and that one's beliefs should conform to the best scientific understanding of the world. They maintain that the waiting period deprives Satanists of bodily autonomy and that the "informed consent booklet," which contains factually incorrect information, undermines their rational and scientific understanding of the world.
In the lawsuit, filed last year, the group had sought a religious exemption from those requirements.
Satanic Temple spokesperson and co-founder Lucien Greaves tells Broadly the Satanic Temple already has plans to appeal what he called a "ludicrous" decision. "I don't think it will stay dismissed for long. The judge didn't even address the question being posed in this case of whether or not [Doe's] First Amendment right had been violated."
At least one legal scholar agrees. Marci Hamilton, a law professor and fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, has been following this case for Justia.com. "Judge Audrey dismissed the case based on lack of standing," Hamilton wrote. "Moreover, whether or not [the plaintiff] is ever pregnant again, she was, so this is a classic constitutional violation."