A group of Missouri abortion activists who identify as Christian and Jewish filed a lawsuit against the state abortion ban Thursday, claiming that protecting unborn babies’ right to life violates their “basic human rights” and religious freedom.
The Associated Press reports the 13 faith leaders, supported by pro-abortion and separation of church and state groups, argue that state lawmakers passed the abortion ban to impose their personal religious beliefs on others.
“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,” attorney Michelle Banker with the National Women’s Law Center said. “And that hurts us. That denies our basic human rights.”
Missouri is one of 14 states that protects unborn babies by banning abortions; exceptions are allowed for medical emergencies. The law went into effect last year after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
In the lawsuit, the religious leaders claim the ban violates a clause in the Missouri Constitution that requires the separation of church and state.
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They pointed to several statements that pro-life lawmakers made about their Christian faith when they passed the law, as well as a phrase in the legislation that states, “In recognition that Almighty God is the author of life … it is the intention of the General Assembly to defend the right to life of all humans, born and unborn,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey expressed hope that the pro-life law will be upheld.
“I want Missouri to be the safest state in the nation for children, and that includes unborn children,” Bailey said in a statement. “As attorney general, I will protect the Constitution and defend the right to life with every tool at my disposal.”
Bailey said several courts, including the U.S. and Missouri supreme courts, have rejected similar cases in the past. One was a 2019 decision against the Satanic Temple, which claimed a state informed consent law that requires abortion facilities to provide information about an unborn baby’s development, abortion risks and pregnancy resources violated its members’ religious freedom.
State Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, also defended the abortion ban this week, saying the belief that every human life is precious is not merely religious, the Post-Dispatch reports.
“We were acting on the belief that life is precious and should be treated as such,” Rowden said. “I don’t think that’s a religious belief. And I think people need to understand what separation of church and state is. Most people don’t.”
Many lawmakers mentioned their Christian faith as a reason why they believe babies in the womb deserve to be protected, but the pro-life movement includes people of all faiths and no faith.
What’s more, it is common for Republicans and Democrats in state and national offices to bring up their faith in debates about all sorts of topics, from welfare to war to health care and the economy. Some lawmakers even claim they support abortion because they are Christians.
Here’s more from the newspaper:
Webster University Political Science Professor Gwyneth Williams, who teaches courses involving religion and politics, said legislators can support laws because of their religious beliefs, just as many have advanced civil rights protections because of their religious beliefs.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean that the law itself is imposing a religious belief,” Williams said.
However, religious interpretations and preferences written into the statute itself could be problematic, she said. “That could put it at greater risk.”
Samuel H. Lee of Campaign Life Missouri said he does not think the lawsuit will succeed even with the mention of “Almighty God” in the law.
“This is a publicity stunt which will go nowhere,” Lee said in an email. “No Missouri state court judge will strike down a statute because it includes the words ‘Almighty God,’ since the words ‘Almighty God’ are already in Article I, Section 5 of the Missouri Constitution.”
Still, abortion activists are going to try. Others have filed similar religious freedom lawsuits in Florida, Indiana, Idaho, Kentucky and Texas, some by the Satanic Temple and others from abortion activists who identify as Jewish and Christian.
One of the religious leaders involved in the Missouri case is Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis. She believes women’s wants take precedence over their unborn children’s lives in the Jewish faith.
“Judaism demands of me that my first priority must be to the living, breathing, fully-formed person sitting in front of me,” Neiss told the Post-Dispatch.