Taimy Alvarez/The Washington Post
- Missouri’s abortion ban completely outlaws abortion with limited exceptions.
- The text of the law declares that “Almighty God is the author of life.”
- Thirteen leaders from different faiths say separation of church and state is being violated.
Thirteen faith leaders from various denominations are suing the state of Missouri over an abortion ban that completely outlaws abortion with limited exceptions — based on the premise that “Almighty God is the author of life.”
The clergy, who come from denominations of Christianity, Unitarian Universalism, and Judaism, said the abortion ban violates their religious freedom and subjects them to “the religious dictates of others.”
“In a years-long crusade against abortion access, state officials have weaponized their religious beliefs to control the bodies and deny the autonomy of women and all who can become pregnant, jeopardizing their health, lives, and futures,” the lawsuit says. “Many people of faith support abortion access not despite, but because of, their religion.”
There’s a long history of religious support for abortion rights, according to a 2022 report by The Law, Rights, and Religion Project. Some traditions, including the Presbyterian Church, Reform and Conservative Judaism, and the United Church of Christ, explicitly support the right to an abortion.
“The idea of a religious liberty right to reproductive autonomy is not something that came from lawyers,” said Elizabeth Reiner Platt, director of Columbia Law School’s Law, Rights, and Religion Project. “It came from religious leaders and communities, who have been explaining for decades that they see reproductive freedom as essential to religious freedom.”
It’s unusual for explicitly religious language in a statute, but legislators often invoke religious language when they debate and draft new laws, according to Platt.
More than a dozen states passed abortion bans in the days and weeks following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last summer. Missouri was one of the states that planned ahead. Under the state’s “trigger law,” passed in 2019, abortion became illegal as soon as the court made its ruling.
But Missouri lawmakers openly discussed their religious beliefs on abortion while writing the abortion ban in 2019 according to the lawsuit, saying things like “Life begins at conception. Psalms 119 says …,” and “God doesn’t give us a choice in this area. He is the Creator of life.”
There have also been more than a dozen cases challenging abortion restrictions on religious freedom grounds since the Supreme Court’s decision, according to Platt.
A Florida Jewish congregation, a group of Florida multifaith leaders, Methodist ministers in Texas, and Jewish and Muslim claimants in Indiana, among others, have all brought similar claims.
Some have had initial success, “including injunctions in Utah and Wyoming based in part on religion arguments, as well as more detailed early rulings in Kentucky and Indiana finding that banning abortion violates religious freedom,” Platt told Insider. But there have been no final court victories or losses.
Historically, though, few courts have directly said there is a religious liberty right to abortion care.
In a statement posted to Twitter, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, who is named in the lawsuit, said he would “defend the right to life with every tool at my disposal.”
“In Harris v. McRae, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected arguments like those raised in this case, and the Missouri Attorney General’s Office has won on similar claims at the Missouri Supreme Court,” Bailey wrote, citing a Supreme Court case in which the court rejected an argument that an abortion restriction violated the establishment clause. “We look forward to doing it again. I will never back down from this fight.”