Missouri faith leaders will appeal court’s decision in challenge to Missouri’s total abortion ban as violation of church-state separation

ST. LOUIS – Missouri clergy challenging the state’s abortion ban as a violation of church-state separation today announced their intent to appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court the June 14 decision by St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Jason Sengheiser in Rev. Traci Blackmon v. State of Missouri. Today’s announcement coincides with several key moments in the ongoing struggle for abortion and women’s rights in Missouri:

  • On July 1, 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth, the court’s first post-Roe abortion opinion. The court ruled that many abortion restrictions enacted by Missouri legislators were unconstitutional.
  • On July 3, 1919, Missouri became the 11th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote nationwide.
  • And just over two years ago, on June 24, 2022, Missouri’s governor and attorney general signed documents making a near-total abortion ban the law of the state – just hours after conservative Supreme Court justices overturned Roe v. Wade.

The legal team representing the clergy plaintiffs — which includes Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), and local civil rights lawyer Denise Lieberman — issued the following statement:

“We’re ready to fight all the way to the Missouri Supreme Court to restore Missourians’ reproductive and religious freedom. We respectfully disagree with the circuit court’s decision, which noted that the case ‘presents an extremely difficult question.’ Judge Sengheiser dates the state’s first abortion ban to 1825, and yet acknowledged the ‘historical inequality’ of upholding a total abortion ban based on laws passed when women were still shut out of the electoral and legislative process. Unfortunately, this Court’s order recognizes, and yet still perpetuates, these historical inequalities. Earlier this year, when anti-abortion extremists attempted to enforce Arizona’s similarly antiquated 1864 abortion ban, the legislature there repealed it amid tremendous public backlash. 

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

Sengheiser ruled that Missouri’s abortion ban does not violate the church-state provisions of the Missouri Constitution. The ruling means that the clergy plaintiffs’ case cannot proceed in the circuit court.

Case Background

The lawsuit, Rev. Traci Blackmon v. State of Missouri, was filed in January 2023 on behalf of 13 clergy members whose various faiths call them to support abortion access because of the critical importance it holds for the health, autonomy, economic security, and equality of women and all who can become pregnant. Religious traditions represented by the plaintiffs include Baptist, Episcopalian, United Church of Christ, Judaism, Unitarian Universalism and United Methodist. One plaintiff is also a state legislator.

The faith leader plaintiffs are Rev. Traci Blackmon, Rabbi Doug Alpert, Rev. Jan Barnes, Rabbi Jim Bennett, Rev. Cindy Bumb, Rabbi Andrea Goldstein, Rev. Molly Housh Gordon, Rev. Darryl Gray, Rt. Rev. Deon K. Johnson, Rev. Holly McKissick, Rev. Barbara Phifer, Rabbi Susan Talve, and Rev. Krista Taves. Additional information about the plaintiffs, including photos and remarks, is available here.

The lawsuit alleges that Missouri’s abortion ban and other restrictions violate the state constitution by enshrining lawmakers’ personal religious beliefs about abortion in House Bill No. 126 and Senate Bill 5. One of the provisions of H.B. 126 was a “trigger ban” that prohibited all abortions following the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022.

Lawmakers openly and repeatedly emphasized they were writing their religious beliefs into the abortion bans, even declaring in one statute that “Almighty God is the author of life” – a phrase that an opposing lawmaker noted was “in violation of the separation of church and state.” Transcripts and video of several of the legislators’ remarks are available here.

In addition to the State of Missouri, the defendants named in the lawsuit include state and local officials responsible for enforcing or ensuring compliance with the abortion ban, including Missouri Gov. Mike Parson; Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey; Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services Director Paula F. Nickelson; and officials at the Missouri State Board of Registration for the Healing Arts. 


  • The June 14, 2024, order from Judge Sengheiser.
  • The lawsuit complaint.
  • A media kit including information and photos of the plaintiffs and transcripts of Missouri legislators’ remarks.

Contacts: Requests for information or media interviews should be directed to: