Judge throws out Missouri lawsuit that challenged abortion ban on religious grounds

Mississippi River A bridge over the Mississippi River near St. Louis. | Credit: Checubus/Shutterstock

A pro-abortion lawsuit filed by a number of religious leaders in Missouri was thrown out after a judge ruled that the state’s pro-life laws do not infringe on Missourians’ freedom of religion.

In a June 14 order, the Missouri District Court for the 22nd Judicial Circuit ruled that the references to “Almighty God” in the statutes are similar to references found in the Missouri Constitution, which in turn are similar to sentiments expressed in the Declaration of Independence.

A coalition of more than a dozen Missouri religious leaders, including Jews, Christians, and Unitarian Universalists, filed the lawsuit in 2023, alleging that Missouri’s near-total abortion ban, which passed in 2019 and took effect after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, violates their religious freedom by invoking God as the creator of human life. 

Missouri law currently protects all unborn babies from abortion unless the mother’s life is at risk. 

The religious leaders had argued that Missouri’s abortion laws, which acknowledge “Almighty God [as] the author of life” and also state that life begins at conception, violate the state constitution and the U.S. Constitution.

The Jewish leaders who joined the lawsuit, in particular, argued that Judaism does not recognize unborn children as being alive until after birth.

In the June 14 ruling, Judge Jason Sengheiser also ruled that the outside of the preamble to the law, the rest of Missouri’s abortion law language does not contain any explicit religious language, with the judge finding that the state’s recognition that life begins at conception is not “only a religious belief” but a “medical and scientific” determination.

Jamie Morris, executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference (MCC), said in a statement to CNA that the group is “pleased that common sense prevailed and the lawsuit was dismissed.”

“The statement ‘life begins at conception’ is a scientific reality, not a religious belief. As a broader point, many lawmakers rely on their faith in making all types of policy decisions, including those related to welfare, immigration, and the death penalty,” Morris said.

“Legislators should not be required to leave their faith at the Capitol door,” he said.

In a June 14 statement, the legal team representing the faith leaders said they “respectfully disagree with the court’s decision.”

“Missouri’s abortion ban is a direct attack on the separation of church and state, religious freedom, and reproductive freedom,” the statement said.

“Missouri lawmakers made clear that they were imposing their personal religious beliefs on all Missourians when they enacted these laws. We remain committed to restoring abortion access in Missouri.”

Like numerous other states, Missouri is facing the prospect of a vote on a ballot initiative this November that, if passed, would erode the state’s protections for unborn children.

The MCC is encouraging all Catholics to pray that the state’s abortion laws remain in place.

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