A small group of liberal religious leaders is suing the state of Missouri over its abortion ban, ironically claiming access to abortion is part of their religion.
Although HB 126, Missouri’s law restricting most abortions, makes no mention of God or religion, the plaintiffs cite the religious language which accompanied the bill’s passage as proof of its sectarian nature.
The plaintiffs, led by Rev. Traci Blackmon, filed a suit against the state of Missouri, naming Gov. Mike Parson, Attorney General Andrew Bailey and other public servants, claiming the abortion ban infringes on their religious liberty by mandating ostensibly sectarian beliefs.
However, they end up sawing off the ideological branch they’re sitting on when they argue government shouldn’t favor a particular religion and simultaneously present a religious case for abortion rights.
“Rather than letting each person follow their own beliefs when making important decisions about their own bodies, lives and futures, these politicians want to force us to live according to their beliefs,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president of National Women’s Law Center which represents the plaintiffs.
“But 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.”
Similarly, Rev. Traci Blackmon, an associate general minister for the United Church of Christ, accused Missouri of violating the First Amendment.
“My God is a God of choice. In the United Church of Christ, we believe that God intended people to have autonomy over their lives and bodies, and to have authority to make complex decisions, including whether to have an abortion,” said Blackmon. “They’re betraying the separation of church and state that has enabled the religious plurality we enjoy in our state and in our country.”
However, the phrase “separation of church and state” never appears in the U.S. Constitution. It was first used by Thomas Jefferson during his presidency to assure a Baptist church in Connecticut that the government would not meddle in the church’s affairs.
Jefferson references the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment – that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” – and writes the clause is “thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”
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.”
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.
Both sides ultimately face the problem that their debate transcends science and medicine: there is no medical explanation for how or when a clump of cells becomes a living person.
After all, if an unborn fetus is not a person, who’s to say whether the pregnant mother is a person either?
“Medicine can answer the question, ‘When does a biological organism cease to exist?’” said David Magnus, director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics. “But they can’t answer the question, ‘When does a person begin or end?’ because those are metaphysical issues.”
In other words, beliefs about life, death, and personhood are inherently religious, whether that religion is Christianity, Buddhism or atheism.
Thus, any law supporting or opposing abortion cannot avoid its religious implications.
Many pro-abortion advocates like Blackmon emphasize freedom, arguing individuals should choose for themselves whether or not an abortion is morally acceptable.
But what if a religious belief includes making death threats to a lawmaker? Chase Neill’s does. Must the government – and society – accommodate his actions simply because they are religious?
If the answer is no, that implies a moral code which supersedes this individual’s personal, or even religious, convictions. The million-dollar question is, What is the code?
Though the American Founders did not prohibit differences of religion, they certainly envisioned a religious nation.
After all, men are not born but “created equal,” endowed by their Creator with the right to life and liberty. Without such a Creator, America has no religious freedom, nor the right to anything else.