ST. LOUIS – One of the nation's longest waiting periods for an abortion will face the scrutiny of the Missouri Supreme Court after a state appeals court ruled in favor of an adherent of the Satanic Temple who challenged the law on religious grounds.
The Western District of the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled last week in favor of Mary Doe, an anonymous member of the Satanic Temple, allowing the case to be heard by the state Supreme Court. A hearing date has not been set.
The suit challenges Missouri's abortion law that includes a mandatory three-day waiting period and requirements that a woman seeking an abortion read a booklet, view an ultrasound and hear the fetal heartbeat. It alleges those requirements violate constitutional religious freedom.
The appeals panel wrote in the ruling that the case "raises real and substantial constitutional claims."
The Salem, Massachusetts-based Satanic Temple doesn't believe in a literal Satan but sees the biblical Satan as a metaphor for rebellion against tyranny, said Lucien Greaves, co-founder of the Satanic Temple.
James MacNaughton, a New Jersey attorney representing Doe, said Monday that the law "effectively deputizes doctors to preach the gospel according to the state of Missouri to pregnant women and essentially requires doctors to tell their patients, 'If you get an abortion you're committing murder.'"
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley said in a statement, "I look forward to vigorously defending Missouri's sensible waiting period law from this challenge by the Satanic Temple in the Missouri Supreme Court."
MacNaughton said the case is unique in challenging abortion regulations on religious grounds. The court ruling itself said that neither the Missouri Supreme Court nor the U.S. Supreme Court "has considered whether a Booklet of this nature, an Ultrasound, an Audible Heartbeat Offer, and a seventy-two-hour Waiting Period violate the Religion Clause rights of pregnant women."
MacNaughton declined to say where the plaintiff lives other than Missouri, or give her age. The suit said she traveled to St. Louis for the abortion at a Planned Parenthood clinic in 2015.
Twenty-seven states require a waiting period for an abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a national research group that supports abortion rights. Missouri is one of four states with the longest waiting period — 72 hours.
The suit alleges that preconditions to an abortion such as viewing of an ultrasound and hearing the fetal heartbeat "cause doubt, guilt and shame in a pregnant woman" and are aimed at discouraging the abortion.