Missouri’s Abortion Waiting Period Challenged on Religious Grounds

     JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) – Missouri’s 72-hour waiting period for an abortion violates the religious freedom of a woman who deserves the same exemption as Hobby Lobby, she claims in court.
     Mary Doe sued Gov. Jay Nixon and General Chris Koster in on Monday in Cole County Court.
     Doe claims that an “unborn child” that is not “viable,” as defined by Missouri law, is “tissue,” under her religious beliefs. She says that she “makes decisions regarding her health based on the best scientific understanding of the world, even if the science does not comport with the religious or political beliefs of others.”
     Doe, whose attorney said she is a member of a Satanic Temple, says that her “body is inviolable and subject to her will alone,” that her “inviolable body includes the tissue,” and that “(s)he alone decides whether to remove the tissue from her inviolable body.”
     The booklet that Missouri demands be given to all women seeking an abortion, which describes the tissue’s brain, heart, external organs, presumed ability to feel pain and date of viability violates her belief that she can remove the tissue from her body without regard to its current or future condition, Doe says in the complaint.
     She claims that being given an opportunity to have an ultrasound to listen to the heartbeat of the tissue and then wait 72 hours runs contrary to her belief that she can remove the tissue from her body without regard to its current or future condition.
     “The State of Missouri would like that tissue to be a human being, but it is not in a legal sense,” W. James Mac Naughton, an attorney representing The Satanic Temple, who is backing Doe’s lawsuit, told Courthouse News. “The Supreme Court said so.”
     Doe says the Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not define religious belief.
     The only limits the RFRA places upon exercise of religion is that the religious act cannot cause physical injury to another person, lead to the possession of an illegal weapon or the failure to provide monetary support for a child or health care to a child suffering from a life-threatening condition.
     She claims that since the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that a nonviable fetus does not have the same rights as a person in an abortion, an RFRA exemption is justified.
     The term of Doe’s fetus is uncertain. Mac Naughton said scientific data states that a fetus is generally viable at 26 weeks and that Doe “is not even close to that.”
     “This is a very complex issue,” Mac Naughton said in an interview. “It involves people’s religious beliefs, people’s political beliefs and philosophical beliefs and the thing that I’ve always felt in this case is we’re trying to focus on one issue: Is that tissue a ‘human being’ and entitled to legal protection? That’s a question of faith.”
     A spokesman for the attorney general’s office told Courthouse News it declines to comment on pending litigation. A spokesman for the governor’s office deferred comment to the attorney general’s office.
     Doe seeks injunctive relief from the waiting period.
     Doe’s attorney, Ronald Eisenberg, told Courthouse News that the 72-hour waiting period presents a burden on her. Eisenberg would not divulge Doe’s age or where she lives, but described her as a young woman who had to drive a considerable distance to Planned Parenthood in St. Louis, which is the only abortion provider in Missouri.
     Eisenberg said Doe’s finances are limited and that the local chapter of The Satanic Temple started a crowd-funding account to help pay for the trip.
     On its website, the national organization of The Satanic Temple announced that is has “officially filed suit against MO’s Governor and Attorney General challenging abortion restrictions.” The website states that The Satanic Temple’s legal team is not pro bono and that it also has a crowd-funding link to pay for legal expenses.
     Eisenberg said that some $8,000 had been raised as of Tuesday morning.
     “The potential is for this case to be a lot broader than Missouri,” Eisenberg told Courthouse News. “Many states have 24-hour waiting periods and five states have 72-hour waiting periods. I can envision similar suits being brought elsewhere.”
     In an 8-page Memorandum of Law in Support of a Temporary Restraining Order, Eisenberg wrote that Doe reached her decision based on her “deeply held” religious beliefs, and Missouri’s 72-hour waiting period violates those religious beliefs because it promotes the state’s definition of a human being.

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