UNITED STATES NEWS

Hearing Thursday in religious leaders’ lawsuit challenging Missouri abortion ban

Nov 15, 2023, 10:01 PM

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A St. Louis judge on Thursday will hear arguments in a lawsuit challenging Missouri’s abortion ban on the grounds that lawmakers who passed the measure imposed their own religious beliefs on others who don’t share them.

The lawsuit was filed in January on behalf of 13 Christian, Jewish and Unitarian Universalist leaders who support abortion rights. It seeks a permanent injunction barring the state from enforcing its abortion law, and a declaration that provisions of the law violate the Missouri Constitution.

It is among 38 lawsuits filed in 23 states challenging restrictive abortion laws enacted by conservative states after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The landmark ruling left abortion rights up to each state to decide.

The lawsuit states the Missouri Constitution “does not tolerate this establishment into law of one particular religious view at the expense of others’ religious freedom and of the health and lives of millions of Missourians.”

Missouri Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, a Republican, has called the lawsuit “foolish” and said lawmakers “were acting on the belief that life is precious and should be treated as such,” not a religious belief.

Within minutes of last year’s Supreme Court decision, then-Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Gov. Mike Parson, both Republicans, filed paperwork to immediately enact a 2019 law prohibiting abortions “except in cases of medical emergency.” That law contained a provision making it effective only if Roe v. Wade was overturned.

The law makes it a felony punishable by 5 to 15 years in prison to perform or induce an abortion. Medical professionals who do so also could lose their licenses. The law says that women who undergo abortions cannot be prosecuted.

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 lawsuit, filed on behalf of the faith leaders by Americans United for Separation of Church & State and the National Women’s Law Center, said sponsors and supporters of the Missouri measure “repeatedly emphasized their religious intent in enacting the legislation.”

It quotes the bill’s sponsor, Republican state Rep. Nick Schroer, as saying that “as a Catholic I do believe life begins at conception and that is built into our legislative findings.” A co-sponsor, Republican state Rep. Barry Hovis, said he was motivated “from the Biblical side of it,” according to the lawsuit.

Lawsuits in other states take similar approaches.

In Indiana, lawyers for five anonymous women — who are Jewish, Muslim and spiritual — and advocacy group Hoosier Jews for Choice argued that state’s ban infringes on their beliefs. Their lawsuit specifically highlights the Jewish teaching that a fetus becomes a living person at birth and that Jewish law prioritizes the mother’s life and health. A state appeals court is scheduled to hear arguments Dec. 6.

In Kentucky, three Jewish women sued, claiming the state’s ban violates their religious rights under the state’s constitution and religious freedom law. They allege that Kentucky’s Republican-dominated legislature “imposed sectarian theology” by prohibiting nearly all abortions.

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Hearing Thursday in religious leaders’ lawsuit challenging Missouri abortion ban