A Missouri circuit court heard initial arguments in a lawsuit against the state’s abortion law.
Missouri’s Stand for the Unborn Act was passed in 2019 and went to effect after Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022.
In January, a small group of liberal religious leaders announced they were suing the state, claiming that access to abortion was part of its religion and that lawmakers were trying to force their own religious beliefs on the public.
However, Deputy Solicitor General Maria Lanahan defended the law in a hearing on Thursday.
She told Circuit Judge Jason Sengheiser that lawmakers of faith agreeing with the measure didn’t make the measure inherently religious.
“Everyone has different reasons for passing the bill,” she argued, adding that no one was “compelled to support any system of worship.”
K.M. Bell, attorney for the plaintiffs and employee of the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), claimed that the goal of the Legislature was “to impose their religious beliefs on everyone in Missouri.”
“For many, including the clergy plaintiffs in our case, their faith calls them to support abortion access because it is critical to the health, autonomy, economic security, and equality of women and all who can become pregnant,” Fatima Goss Graves, president of NWLC, said in January.
However, if Missouri’s law violates religious liberty by banning abortion, then protecting abortion rights on religious grounds would also be unconstitutional based on the nonsectarian arguments the plaintiffs present in the suit.
Missouri’s state constitution declares all people have a right “to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences,” as long as those practices are consistent with “the good order, peace or safety of the state, or with the rights of others.”
Judge Sengheiser said he will likely make a ruling by the end of January.
Bell said if judge rules in favor of the state, the plaintiffs will appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court.