On Thursday, a judge in St. Louis will listen to arguments in a lawsuit contesting Missouri’s abortion ban. The lawsuit claims that the lawmakers who enacted the ban forced their personal religious beliefs onto those who do not share them.
In January, a legal case was initiated by 13 religious leaders from Christian, Jewish, and Unitarian Universalist backgrounds who believe in the right to abortion. The goal is to obtain a permanent court order to prevent the state from enforcing its abortion legislation, and to declare that certain aspects of the law are in violation of the Missouri Constitution.
The Brennan Center for Justice reports that there have been 38 legal challenges across 23 states against strict abortion laws implemented by conservative states following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June 2022. This significant ruling has given individual states the authority to determine abortion rights.
The legal action claims that the Missouri Constitution does not permit the implementation of a single religious perspective, which disregards the religious rights of others and puts the well-being and lives of countless Missourians at risk.
Republican Missouri Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden deemed the lawsuit as “foolish” and stated that lawmakers were motivated by the belief that all life is valuable and should be respected, rather than a religious belief.
Shortly after the Supreme Court ruling last year, Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Governor Mike Parson filed documents to enforce a 2019 law that banned abortions unless there was a medical emergency. This law included a clause stating that it would only be enforced if Roe v. Wade was reversed.
It is considered a felony under this law to perform or induce an abortion, and individuals may face a prison sentence of 5 to 15 years. Medical professionals who violate this law may also have their licenses revoked. However, women who choose to undergo abortions will not face prosecution.
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 court case, brought forth by Americans United for Separation of Church & State and the National Women’s Law Center on behalf of religious leaders, argued that those who supported the Missouri measure consistently emphasized its religious purpose when passing the law.
According to the lawsuit, the bill’s sponsor, Republican state Rep. Nick Schroer, stated that he believes life begins at conception due to his Catholic beliefs, which are reflected in the legislative findings. One of the co-sponsors, Republican state Rep. Barry Hovis, mentioned that his motivation for supporting the bill was based on biblical teachings.
Court cases in different states employ comparable methods.
In the state of Indiana, legal representatives for five unidentified women – of Jewish, Muslim, and spiritual faiths – along with advocacy group Hoosier Jews for Choice, have put forth a case claiming that the state’s ban violates their personal beliefs. Their lawsuit specifically brings attention to the Jewish belief that a fetus is not considered a living being until after birth, and that the well-being of the mother takes precedence according to Jewish law. A hearing for this case has been set for December 6 by a state appeals court.
Three Jewish women in Kentucky have filed a lawsuit, arguing that the state’s ban on abortion goes against their religious beliefs as protected by both the state’s constitution and religious freedom law. They claim that the predominantly Republican legislature has imposed a specific religious doctrine by outlawing almost all forms of abortion.