On January 19, 2023, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, alongside law firm Arnold & Porter and local counsel Denise Lieberman, filed a lawsuit on behalf of thirteen clergy members from six faith traditions against the state of Missouri challenging the state’s abortion ban and several abortion restrictions. The lawsuit, Rev. Traci Blackmon v. State of Missouri, argues that these restrictions establish one religious view about abortion as the law of the land in violation of the Missouri constitution’s robust protections for separation of church and state.
Religious traditions represented by the plaintiff clergy include Episcopalian, Orthodox Judaism, United Church of Christ, Reform Judaism, Unitarian Universalism and United Methodist. One plaintiff is also a state legislator. For each of the plaintiffs, their faith calls 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.
The lawsuit demonstrates that Gov. Michael Parson and the Missouri Legislature violated the state constitution by enshrining their personal religious beliefs about abortion into law when they enacted several abortion bans as part of House Bill No. 126, as well as earlier laws that destroyed abortion access in the state. One of the bans in 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 that they were writing their religious beliefs into the abortion bans, even declaring in the bill itself 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.” Legislators said they passed the ban because:
- “to me God doesn’t give us a choice in this area. He is the Creator of life.”
- “being from the Biblical side of it, I’ve always believed that life does occur at the point of conception.”
- “Life begins at conception. Psalms 119 says …”
- “as a Catholic I do believe life begins at conception. That is built into our legislative findings currently in law…”
The faith leaders are asking the Circuit Court for the City of St. Louis to declare that the abortion ban and restrictions violate the Missouri constitution, and to issue a permanent injunction barring state and local officials from enforcing the challenged provisions.