As the United States continues to grapple with the fallout of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and undoing decades of legal precedent that allowed access to abortions, a group of just over a dozen religious leaders in Missouri, including Christian, Jewish, and Unitarian Universalist figures, have brought a legal challenge against a relatively all-encompassing abortion ban there.
The challenged restrictions were made possible because undoing Roe provided state officials with the opportunity to impose their own legal measures dealing with abortion, although the Missouri ban was passed before Roe was actually overturned. It was among the nation’s so-called trigger laws that were designed to take effect if the court’s Justices took that step. The new lawsuit in Missouri contends the ban plaintiffs are disputing violates basic legal protections available under the law for religious liberty, considering the obviously conservative Christian slant of the rhetoric of key figures who were part of making the ban possible. GOP state Rep. Nick Schroer cited his Catholic faith, and Barry Hovis, another Republican legislator, said he was acting “from the Biblical side of it.”
Although the conservative Christian and Catholic idea of life starting at conception often takes prominence, many other religious traditions for dealing with the question are out there, including the Jewish beliefs cited in coverage from the Associated Press about prioritizing the life and health of the pregnant individual and that a fetus becomes a person at birth.
The Missouri ban includes an exception for medical emergencies, but besides the possibility that prioritizing the pregnant individual’s care could go much farther than that exception, it’s not a given that such an exception — or exceptions for rape or incest — are somehow models of compassion. What kind of medical damage might a pregnant individual suffer while the medical staff caring for them deal with the question of whether the case is serious enough to warrant an abortion without later felony charges? What about the possibility of a pregnant victim of rape going without an abortion because they’re unable to document what happened as might be required?
“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,” Michelle Banker of the National Women’s Law Center, who is a lead attorney on the Missouri case, said. “And that hurts us. That denies our basic human rights.” Also involved in this case alongside the individual religious leaders is an organization called Americans United for Separation of Church & State. Other states that have seen litigation over abortion restrictions on religious freedom grounds include Indiana and Kentucky.