Satanic Temple Challenges 18 States' Abortion Laws With Religious Exemption Claim

The Satanic Temple, a national religious rights organization with chapters in 21 states, has recently erected two billboards in Texas and Florida encouraging followers to challenge state restrictions on abortions conducted during the first trimester by claiming that the restrictions violate their religious beliefs as Satanists. Over 18 states have such restrictions.

The group, which claims not to believe "in the existence of Satan or the supernatural" and regularly advocates for all beliefs and non-beliefs to be treated equally under the law, has also released a "religious abortion ritual video." The video explains the laws behind abortion rights and religious beliefs. It also instructs viewers on how to conduct a home abortion ceremony that "provides spiritual comfort and affirms bodily autonomy and self-worth."

"Abortions Save Lives!" The group's billboard outside of Houston, Texas reads. "Pregnancy complications are the sixth most common cause of death among women between the ages of 20 and 34. Our Religious Abortion Ritual Averts Many State Restrictions." The billboard then lists the group's web address.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently lists "pregnancy complications" as the ninth leading cause of death for women between the ages of 20 and 44.

abortion restrictions laws Satanic Temple religious freedom
The Satanic Temple, a religious freedom and rights organization, is encouraging people seeking abortions in states with abortion access restrictions to claim that the restrictions violate their religious beliefs as Satanists. In this May 31, 2019 photo, an anti-abortion protestor demonstrates outside the Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services Center in St. Louis, Missouri, the last location in the state performing abortions. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty

Another billboard from the group outside of Miami features a vintage black-and-white image of two smiling young women from the 1950s drinking bottled sodas and wearing button-down shirts and skirts.

A word bubble over one of the women says, "Susan, you're telling me, I do not have to endure a waiting period when I have an abortion?" The other woman replies, "That's true if you're a SATANIST!" The words, "Our Religious Abortion Ritual Averts Many State Restrictions" is printed on the right side of the billboard below the group's logo bearing a horned goat skull over a pentagram.

In the religious abortion ritual video, Jane Essex, a spokesperson for the Satanic Temple's religious reproductive rights campaign, states that the Supreme Court's 2014 Hobby Lobby decision affirms an individual's right to object to laws that violate their religious beliefs, a right enshrined in the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

In this case, the Satanic Temple's beliefs include that a person's body is "inviolable and subject to [their] will alone" and that abortion restrictions interfere with follower's religious practices affirming their right to "make decisions about fetal or embryonic tissue [that they] carry, provided that the tissue is unable to survive outside [their] body as an independent human being."

As such the following violate the Temple's beliefs: Mandatory waiting periods, requirements that practitioners withhold certain medical information, compulsory counseling prior to an abortion, required reading materials, medically unnecessary sonograms, mandatory listening to the fetal heartbeat and mandatory burial or cremation of fetal remains.

Although the Supreme Court's 2014 decision was limited to closely held corporations, the RFRA states that the government cannot pressure individuals to give up a religious practice under penalty of punishment unless the law furthers a compelling government interest and is found to be the least burdensome way to further that interest on a person of faith.

Nevertheless, Essex said that the Temple would help provide legal support to any follower denied access to an abortion without the aforementioned restrictions. The organization has also provided a form letter that abortion-seekers can give to medical providers explaining their legal reasoning.

"We understand the clinics are going to be hesitant to grant these exceptions," Essex said in the video. "The clinic staff will probably be concerned because there are regulations, even though the law and the judiciary, have made it clear that religious rights prevail in these situations. So they would be violating the law, if they don't comply with that request."

Currently, Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin all have various restrictions on abortion access. Other states also have mandatory-delay laws which vary in their enforcement.

Newsweek contacted the Satanic Temple and the Center for Reproductive Rights for comment.