Statement on Behalf of Faith Leaders Challenging Missouri Abortion Ban as Violation of Church-state Separation

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI – June 15, 2024 – The legal team representing 14 Missouri faith leaders challenging the state’s abortion ban as a violation of church-state separation issued the following statement in response to yesterday’s order from St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Jason Sengheiser:

“We respectfully disagree with the court’s decision, and will be discussing next steps with our faith leader clients. Missouri’s abortion ban is a direct attack on the separation of church and state, religious freedom and reproductive freedom. 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.”

The clergy plaintiffs from seven diverse denominations are represented by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), the law firm Arnold & Porter, and local civil rights lawyer Denise Lieberman.

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. The plaintiffs have a right to appeal Sengheiser’s ruling or to ask him to reconsider it. In June 2023, Sengheiser had denied the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, and had thereby then allowed the clergy to move forward with their challenges to the abortion ban and several other restrictions on abortion access. 

Case Background

The lawsuit, Rev. Traci Blackmon v. State of Missouri, was filed in January 2023 on behalf of 14 members of the clergy 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, Orthodox Judaism, United Church of Christ, Reform Judaism, Unitarian Universalism and United Methodist. One plaintiff is also a state legislator.

The faith leader plaintiffs are Rev. Traci Blackmon, Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, 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 bill 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. Parson; Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey; Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services Acting Director Paula F. Nickelson; and several officials at the Missouri State Board of Registration for the Healing Arts. 


  • Yesterday’s decision from Judge Sengheiser.
  • A copy of 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: