January 2024 Church & State Magazine - January 2024

Attorneys offer argument in crucial abortion-rights lawsuit in Missouri


The St. Louis City Court held an important hearing in the case of Rev. Traci Blackmon v. State of Missouri Nov. 16. In this case, a group of 14 clergy members of different faiths argue that Missouri’s abortion ban violates the state’s commitment to separation of church and state. (See “Restoring Reproductive Rights,” February 2023 Church & State for more information about the case.)

Defending abortion rights: AU’s Joslin (fourth from left) joins supporters in Missouri

Last June, the faith leaders, represented by Americans United, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), the law firm of Arnold & Porter and local counsel Denise Lieberman, defeated the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The court granted the clergy permission to move forward with their challenges to the abortion ban.

The recent hearing addressed arguments on a legal motion the state filed in the case. The court’s decision on this motion could significantly impact the future of reproductive rights in Missouri.

“Each of our faiths call upon us to defend the dignity and autonomy of all individuals,” said Rev. Blackmon, lead plaintiff in the case and associate general minister of justice & local church ministries for the United Church of Christ. “Missouri’s abortion bans impose religious doctrine on all of us and in doing so deny equity and bodily autonomy. We aren’t truly free unless we can control our own bodies, lives and futures. Our laws should protect our rights, not try to control and dehumanize us.” (Blackmon is also a member of AU’s Board of Trustees.) 

Kalli Joslin, Steven Gey Constitutional Litigation Fellow at Americans United, traveled to Missouri to help argue the case. She was joined by K.M. Bell, senior litigation counsel at NWLC.

“We are committed to defending the fundamental right to be treated equally under the law,” Joslin said. “When lawmakers enshrine their narrow set of religious beliefs about abortion in law, it subordinates the health and lives of women and all who can become pregnant, inhibiting their ability to participate equally in society. We will continue to fight on behalf of our plaintiffs and all Missourians’ right to reproductive health access.”

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, Missouri officials banned all abortions “except in cases of medical emergency.” The law makes it a felony to perform an abortion, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. 

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