July/August 2023 Church & State Magazine - July/August 2023

Mo. court allows abortion-rights lawsuit brought by AU, allies to proceed

 

Americans United largely won an important ruling June 30 when a state judge in Missouri ruled that 14 clergy from seven faith traditions may move forward with a lawsuit challenging laws that restrict abortion access in the state. 

The lawsuit, Blackmon v. Missouri, was brought by Americans United and the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) on behalf of clergy members who support abortion access. AU, NWLC and the plaintiffs argue that Missouri’s abortion bans violate the state constitution’s guarantee of separation of church and state.

Supporting choice: Activists meet in Missouri

In 2019, Missouri state legislators passed H.B. 126, a bill imposing numerous abortion restrictions on Missouri residents in the name of “Almighty God.” On the floor of the Missouri House of Representatives, state legislators defended H.B. 126 in overtly religious terms. Then-Rep. Holly Thompson Rehder (R) stated, “God doesn’t give us a choice in this area. He is the Creator of life.” 

The bill’s sponsor, then-Rep. Nick Schroer (R), said, “I’ll say this again, as a Catholic I do believe life begins at conception, that is built into our legislative findings currently in law.” And even after Rep. Ian Mackey (D) pointed out that the religious language in the bill was an unconstitutional violation of the separation of church and state, Rep. Adam Schnelting (R) stated, “I know of no greater way of affirming the natural rights of man than to declare that they are a gift from our Creator that neither man nor government can abridge.”

During the oral argument in the case, Maria Lanahan of the Missouri Attorney General’s office asked St. Louis Circuit Judge Jason Sengheiser to dismiss the lawsuit, asserting that the clergy don’t have the right to bring it. 

But Kalli A. Joslin, a constitutional legal fellow at Americans United, asserted that the legislators have no right to “impose their religion on others by law,” reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“We largely prevailed and can now litigate our case, which will strike this abortion ban down as a violation of the separation of church and state,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United, in reaction to the ruling.    

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