ST. LOUIS (AP) — A group of religious leaders who support abortion rights filed a lawsuit on Thursday challenging Missouri’s law that bans abortions in nearly all cases, saying lawmakers openly invoked their religious beliefs while drafting the measure and thereby imposed those beliefs on others who don’t share them.
The lawsuit filed in St. Louis is the latest of many to challenge restrictive abortion laws enacted by conservative states after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. That landmark ruling left abortion rights up to each state to decide.
Since then, religious abortion rights supporters have increasingly used religious freedom lawsuits in seeking to protect abortion access. The religious freedom complaints are among nearly three dozen post-Roe lawsuits that have been filed against 19 states’ abortion bans, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
The Missouri lawsuit brought on behalf of 13 Christian and Jewish leaders seeks a permanent injunction barring the state from enforcing its abortion law and a declaration that provisions of its law violate the Missouri Constitution.
“What the lawsuit says is that when you legislate your religious beliefs into law, you impose your beliefs on everyone else and force all of us to live by your own narrow beliefs,” said Michelle Banker of the National Women’s Law Center, lead attorney in the case. “And that hurts us. That denies our basic human rights.”
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Who are these people? Infanticide backers insist they are Christians and Jews
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH – The religious leaders filing the suit argue that their faith calls them to ensure abortion access because of how it affects a pregnant person’s autonomy, health, economic security and equality.
Among them are Rev. Deon K. Johnson, the first openly gay Black bishop the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. He follows the opinion of the Episcopal Church that the decision to have an abortion is personal one and “an integral part of a woman’s struggle to assert her dignity and worth as a human being.”
The Rev. Krista Taves, who serves as a minister at Eliot Unitarian Chapel in Kirkwood and First Unitarian Church in Alton, said her faith places trust in an individual’s ability to make moral decisions about their bodies.
Rabbi Andrea Goldstein at the Shaare Emeth, the largest congregation for Reform Judaism in the St. Louis area, says her faith rejects the notion that abortion terminates human life and gives priority to the safety and well-being of the pregnant person.
“Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” – Book of Jeremiah, an apparent source of ‘narrow beliefs’
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Within minutes of last year’s Supreme Court decision, then-Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Gov. Mike Parson, both Republicans, filed paperwork to immediately enact a 2019 law prohibiting abortions “except in cases of medical emergency.” That law contained a provision making it effective only if Roe v. Wade was overturned.
The law makes it a felony punishable by 5 to 15 years in prison to perform or induce an abortion. Medical professionals who do so also could lose their licenses. The law says that women who undergo abortions cannot be prosecuted.
Missouri already had some of the nation’s more restrictive abortion laws and had seen a significant decline in the number of abortions performed, with residents instead traveling to clinics just across the state line in Illinois and Kansas.
The lawsuit said sponsors and supporters of the Missouri measure “repeatedly emphasized their religious intent in enacting the legislation.” It quotes the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Nick Schroer, as saying that “as a Catholic I do believe life begins at conception and that is built into our legislative findings.” A co-sponsor, Republican state Rep. Barry Hovis, said he was motivated “from the Biblical side of it,” according to the lawsuit.
Lawsuits in several other states take similar approaches.
In Indiana, lawyers for five anonymous women — who are Jewish, Muslim and spiritual — and advocacy group Hoosier Jews for Choice have argued that state’s ban infringes on their beliefs. Their lawsuit specifically highlights the Jewish teaching that a fetus becomes a living person at birth and that Jewish law prioritizes the mother’s life and health.
A court ruling siding with the women was appealed by the Indiana attorney general’s office, which is asking the state Supreme Court to consider the case.
In Kentucky, three Jewish women sued, claiming the state’s ban violates their religious rights under the state’s constitution and religious freedom law. They allege that Kentucky’s Republican-dominated legislature “imposed sectarian theology” by prohibiting nearly all abortions. The ban remains in effect while the Kentucky Supreme Court considers a separate case challenging the law.
But Banker said Missouri’s lawsuit is unique because while plaintiffs in other states claimed harm, “we are saying that the whole law violates separation of church and state and we’re seeking to get everything struck down.”