Why The Satanic Temple's Historic Case Could Be A "Win-Win" For Abortion Rights

Photo: Elise Amendola/AP Photo.
Lucien Greaves of The Satanic Temple
Just one day after the historic 45th anniversary of Roe V. Wade, yet another historic case is making its way through the court system. The Satanic Temple delivered oral arguments in Missouri Supreme Court this morning, in a unique challenge to the state’s restrictive abortion laws.
The plaintiff, identified only as “Mary Doe,” who is a member of The Satanic Temple, argues that Missouri’s abortion law violated her right to religious freedom by requiring her to look at an ultrasound, listen to a state-mandated script that includes the phrase “life begins at conception,” and wait 72-hours before her procedure in 2015.
The Satanic Temple argues the law violates Doe’s religious freedom because one of the organization’s seven tenets is, “One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.” The suit invokes the free exercise of religion clause in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — the same laws that Hobby Lobby used to successfully challenge the birth control mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The Missouri Supreme Court, however, is only considering the claim that there is a legitimate constitutional violation.
The state of Missouri argues that the Temple’s arguments are moot because the law, “advances compelling state interests and does not unduly restrict religious exercise,” according to the brief filed by the state for today’s hearing. In other words, Doe did eventually get her abortion, so all the law did was expose her to information she disagrees with.
Missouri is one of four states with a 72-hour waiting law, and one of 18 states with state-mandated counseling, according to the Guttmacher Institute. It’s unclear what effect a ruling following this hearing would have just yet. While the Missouri Supreme Court could overturn the Missouri waiting period law, what’s more likely is that it will send it back to a lower court to deliberate, experts say. The court could also rule against The Satanic Temple and throw the case out. But one thing's for sure: This is a first-of-its-kind argument in the decades-long abortion debate. It could also open the door for creating a new religious protection for abortion, even if they do lose this round.
How so? Let Lucien Greaves (also a pseudonym) explain. Refinery29 caught up with Greaves, the head of The Satanic Temple, a few weeks ago as the group was awaiting a court date to learn more about the trajectory of the case, and this morning we touched base with him after the hearing. We talked about the arguments behind the case, what satanists believe, and what The Satanic Temple hopes to accomplish long-term — including the big goal of one day opening an abortion clinic of their own. Check out our interview below.
How did it go today in court?
We'll see. I expected the state to argue, as they did, that nothing in our religious doctrine compels a woman to get an abortion and therefore it's not a violation of our Free Exercise. But [we feel] that argument is predicated upon outdated precedent; try to reconcile that with the Hobby Lobby ruling, [which allowed employers to claim a religious exemption and deny coverage of birth control.] It's hard to say how the Court will rule, but I don't think anybody can say we made a poor case.
Before today, it was determined by the lower court that we do have a substantial constitutional grievance that deserves review. And that's very encouraging for the lower court to state that we do have this very legitimate grievance. That says nothing about which way the case will actually go, but we have high hopes.
We also feel that, either way this is determined, it stands to really change how this dialogue carries out in the future. If they rule in our favor, then we have a favorable case for moving forward against abortion restrictions in the future. If they rule against us, it might have a limiting effect on religious liberty claims in general when it comes to this issue. Hopefully, we don't find ourselves in a situation where we're just ruled against. But if that does happen, then that would be essentially saying our religious claims are under a higher level of scrutiny, while the other religious claims have been made without much critical inquiry (like the Hobby Lobby case). At least for argument's sake, it would point out that hypocrisy.
The Satanic Temple is not to be confused with the Church of Satan, which worships the Satanic Bible. Do you truly think of yourselves as a religion? And if so, what do your religious views have to do with abortion laws?
We genuinely think of ourselves as a religion. But we're openly non-theistic. We don't believe in a personal Satan or in Satan as an actual literal being, but we use the metaphorical narrative of the ultimate rebel against tyranny to try to contextualize and create a cultural identity for everything we do. Some might say, well a religion requires a belief in a literal higher power but by existing, and fighting these fights, we’re asking, why is that all that's required to count as a religion?
That question has so far not been considered by courts. But the fact of the matter is, the basis of our claims in the fight against the Missouri law, for example, are truly based in our deeply held beliefs. This fight is very meaningful for us; it defines who we are. And if somebody is to make a religious claim, I believe that's what it should be based on: a deeply held belief and something that runs so contrary to their very sense of personal identity.
We believe that your views on your bodily autonomy are non-negotiable and they define your sense of identity. If there's anything that should be protected under the notion of a deeply held belief, what you could call a religious belief, it's things like that. That should be something that people should be able to make a claim of exemption or privilege upon. And if you're going to preference supernaturalism over non-theism, or one deeply held religious belief over another, by mandating that people have to listen to and acknowledge a belief like “life begins at conception” and wait to get an abortion — then I feel that runs against the grain of the very spirit of American pluralism. Our argument is that it violates the free exercise of religion clause of the constitution.
What do you see as the end-game here, the big goal of all of this?
Overall, we see a real need for what we do, especially now. The culture war has only been getting more and more polarized, and we see a need for an active satanic organization to push back against the idea that only one religious voice deserves religious freedom. Essentially, whenever you see the religious right kicking down the doors between church and state, they leave that door wide open for us behind them and we're going to find a way to use that, not simply to spite them but to kind of try to nullify some of the damage they're doing and use it to the benefit of reasonable people.
You have these kinds of claims upheld by some of the courts that the state can act in a position of preferencing “life” over abortion, or live birth over abortion — but you really can't erase the religious viewpoint from that. You can't elevate the idea that a ball of cells lacking any cognition is somehow an individual and distinct human life to a scientific absolute. As soon as you start exploring that notion, it’s obviously a religious claim, so a deeply held belief should certainly be enough to counteract those claims.
We're actually looking into opening up a religiously protected abortion clinic. The limits on that are what we're exploring right now. We are looking at opening it up in a state that has its own religious freedom restoration act put in at a state level (versus the federal religious freedom laws).
Those differ slightly by state but we are looking really hard at Indiana right now. Indiana would be symbolic because that's [the anti-choice Vice President] Mike Pence's home state. He has done and will continue to do so much to try to destroy the right to abortion, so we think there would be a poignant irony if religious freedom laws he put into place actually started to protect abortion in Indiana.
Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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