ST. LOUIS (CN) — Missouri’s law requiring physicians to give women a pro-life booklet and perform an ultrasound before an abortion does not infringe on a Satanist’s religious freedom, the Eighth Circuit ruled Tuesday.
Judy Doe, a member of the Satanic Temple, filed a lawsuit in February 2018 claiming that the state’s definition of life beginning at conception violates the establishment and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment.
“Doe makes no argument, however, that the informed-consent law is anything other than ‘neutral’ and ‘generally applicable,’” U.S. Circuit Judge David R. Stras wrote for a three-judge panel. “In these circumstances, it must only survive rational-basis review, which requires it to be ‘rationally related to a legitimate government interest.’ To the extent Doe argues that the certification requirement lacks a rational basis, we disagree.”
The 8-page ruling affirms the decision by U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey to dismiss the claim, which prompted the appeal to the St. Louis-based appeals court.
U.S. Circuit Judges Duane Benton, a George W. Bush appointee, and L. Steven Grasz joined Stras, a fellow appointee of President Donald Trump, on the panel.
“This really comes as no surprise,” attorney W. James Mac Naughton, who represented Doe, said in an interview. “(A) it was a very conservative panel, and (B) it’s a panel that ignored the issue as others have done.”
Mac Naughton said the next step would be to appeal for an en banc hearing before the entire Eighth Circuit. A decision on that has not been made, but his client has 14 days to file an appeal.
A spokesman for the state declined comment on the ruling.
Doe had argued in her complaint that an unborn child that is not viable, as defined by Missouri law, is just tissue under her religious beliefs. She said 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.”
The woman further asserted that her “body is inviolable and subject to her will alone,” and that “she alone decides whether to remove the tissue from her inviolable body.”
Her lawsuit claimed that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — which is what Hobby Lobby used to successfully exclude itself from offering contraception coverage to its workers — does not define religious belief. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby held that privately owned companies are not required to provide birth control to their employees as mandated by the Affordable Care Act.
“The state has no business telling what people to believe,” Mac Naughton said in an interview. “The state has no business telling us that life begins at conception. We can decide that for ourselves.”
The state said during oral arguments in January that it had an interest in protecting voluntary informed consent regarding medical procedures, and that the Satanic Temple is an advocacy group instead of an organized religion.
Deputy Solicitor Peter Reed, who represented Missouri in the hearing, said there is no requirement that Doe read the booklet provided by the state or that she view the required ultrasound. She told the court that she was only required to sign an acknowledgment that a booklet was provided and an opportunity to view the ultrasound was provided.
Mac Naughton remains unconvinced.
“It violates the establishment clause because it adopts the Catholic dogma that life begins at conception,” the attorney said in an interview.
But Dennis Hudecki — an expert in abortion and sexual ethics at Brescia University College in London, Ontario — believes the ruling was convincing.
“Just because a state’s belief coincided with a particular religion, does not mean it is pushing the doctrine of that religion,” Hudecki said in an interview. “I think the state’s view that life begins at conception is on a rational basis and while there is rational disagreement, just because there’s rational disagreement doesn’t mean each side isn’t being rational.”
Hudecki, who is also a philosophy professor, said arguments about when life begins are not limited to the realm of the various religious dogmas.
“There are big arguments about when life begins,” Hudecki said. “Some people who believe that life begins at conception argue not at all from a religious basis. They go back all the way to Aristotle and that the essence of a human doesn’t change once its formed from the beginning. It just gets older, but it’s essence doesn’t change.”