Abortion bans violate church-state separation
Abortion bans impose one narrow religious doctrine on everyone. These bans violate the separation of church and state.
Missouri’s abortion bans impose one narrow religious doctrine on everyone and in doing so deny equality and bodily autonomy. Missouri officials repeatedly told us that they were imposing their religious law on every Missourian. So, we’re suing.
Our lawsuit has widespread religious support.
That’s why Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the National Women’s Law Center, leading experts in religious freedom and gender justice, are challenging Missouri’s draconian abortion bans on behalf of FOURTEEN clergy from SEVEN different denominations. Our plaintiffs include an Episcopal bishop, an orthodox Jewish maharat, a United Methodist pastor and state legislator, as well as Reform Jewish rabbis and United Church of Christ and Unitarian Universalist ministers. Fittingly, we filed just days after Religious Freedom Day and before the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
State abortion bans are unconstitutional
Reproductive rights and religious freedom are intertwined. When your most intimate, personal decisions are held hostage to religious beliefs with which you may strongly disagree and even consider oppressive, you are not free.
But our lawsuit isn’t looking to nullify the abortion bans only for those whose religion mandates otherwise.
Missouri’s abortion bans are unconstitutional.
We are challenging Missouri’s abortion bans because when state legislators give their personal religious doctrine the force of law, they violate America’s promise to separate church and state and protect everyone’s religious freedom, from the devout to the nonbeliever.
That’s why so many religious leaders are suing. And it’s why the bans have got to go.
Our lawsuit has widespread national support.
Our lawsuit has widespread religious support
Our lawsuit has widespread religious support. Many people, including our plaintiffs, support abortion because of their religious beliefs.
Their religious freedom is violated when a contrary religious belief is given the force of law by these extreme legislators.
Our lawsuit has widespread local support
Our lawsuit has widespread local support, including local faith communities, social justice organizations, and other civic groups.
Questions about the case
What are Missouri's abortion bans?
Missouri’s expansive abortion ban (H.B. 126) passed in 2019 and included a trigger ban that prohibited all abortions with no exception for rape or incest and only the narrowest exception for medical emergencies involving the life of the pregnant person. It went into effect in June 2022 immediately upon the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down Roe v. Wade.
Prior to the trigger ban taking effect, H.B. 126 also enacted a cascading series of 8-week, 14-week, 18-week, and 20-week pre-viability abortion bans (called gestational age bans) and a ban on particular reasons for obtaining an abortion (called a reason ban).
Our lawsuit also challenges abortion restrictions that were enacted by the Missouri Legislature prior to H.B. 126, including a 2017 law that established medically unnecessary regulations on abortion providers and unnecessary, onerous procedural requirements on medication abortion, and a 2014 law that required people seeking an abortion to wait 72 hours after receiving state-mandated information before obtaining care.
What does religion have to do with abortion bans?
The American legal system has adopted a taboo against mentioning religion in legal cases involving abortion. Lawyers and judges go out of their way to avoid discussing religion and religious motivations for abortion restrictions, and treat abortion bans as if they are religiously neutral. They are far from that, but only rarely is someone willing to shatter this polite fiction—to cry out that the emperor has no clothes. If they did, it would quickly become obvious that these bans give the force of law to one narrow religious doctrine.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor broke the spell during oral argument in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case that overturned Roe v. Wade. “How is your interest anything but a religious view?” Sotomayor asked the lawyer for the state of Mississippi, “… when you say [abortion] is the only right that takes away from the state the ability to protect a life, that’s a religious view, isn’t it?” Mississippi had no answer.
Justice Alito was actually reasonably clear when he overturned Roe in the Dobbs opinion, beginning and ending with religion, though he cloaked it as “morality.” The Missouri legislators who banned abortion were clear about imposing their narrow version of religious law on us all.
Abortion bans have always been about forcing every person to obey one particular religious edict.
Is this the same as other religious freedom cases we’re seeing?
This lawsuit is different because we’re not seeking a religious exemption from abortion bans, but challenging the bans as unconstitutional—a violation of church-state separation. We don’t want an exemption for some believers and a ban for everyone else—we are coming after the bans for everyone.
The narrow religious and personal beliefs of a vocal, politically powerful minority cannot be given the force of law.
Religious freedom demands the right to an abortion so people can make their own reproductive decisions according to their own principles. The separation of church and state protects religious freedom and reproductive freedom – the freedom to decide for yourself.
Shielding our shared laws from any religion’s influence frees us to come together as equals and build a stronger democracy. AU has been on the forefront of religious freedom and reproductive freedom for 75 years. We first challenged religiously motivated restrictions on contraception back in the 1950s.