Texas requires all women who want an abortion to go through a medically unnecessary ultrasound 24 hours before the procedure. There’s no reason to do it other than to try and guilt her out of the decision by falsely suggesting she’s about to commit murder.
Now a member of The Satanic Temple is suing the state’s Department of Health Services and its director Dr. John William Hellerstedt, claiming they’re getting in the way of her “Satanic Abortion Ritual.”
The argument goes like this: The anonymous plaintiff says that ritual is meaningful to her and not just something she does as a loophole around abortion restrictions. For surgical abortions, this is what the ritual looks like, with references to the Satanists’ Seven Fundamental Tenets:
Immediately before receiving any anesthetic or sedation, look at your reflection to be reminded of your personhood and responsibility to yourself. Focus on your intent, take deep breaths, and make yourself comfortable. When you are ready, say the Third Tenet aloud. The surgery can now begin. During the operation, take another deep breath and recite the Fifth Tenet. Immediately after the surgery, return to your reflection and recite the personal affirmation. Feel the doubts dissipating and your confidence growing as you have just undertaken a decision that affirms your autonomy and free will. The religious abortion is now complete.
The lawsuit says obtaining an ultrasound would get in the way of all that because it violates the Fifth Tenet (“Beliefs should conform to one’s best scientific understanding of the world”) and the Third Tenet (“One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone”). That makes it impossible to perform the ritual as intended.
And yet the Planned Parenthood where the plaintiff scheduled her abortion says it must follow the law — and therefore violate her religious beliefs. (Planned Parenthood is named as a defendant in the lawsuit for that reason, though the plaintiffs admit this isn’t their fault.)
On January 22, 2021, Ms. Doe’s religious beliefs compelled her to seek a religious exemption to these regulations: both because the regulations violate her beliefs and because they substantially interfere with the Satanic Abortion Ritual.
The facility refused to grant it.
Neither Ms. Doe nor TST fault the facility.
As written, the regulations do not provide for religious exemptions.
If the facility granted Ms. Doe a religious exemption, the facility would incur sanctions from the Department.
“Jane Doe” says the ultrasound requirement is a violation of her First Amendment and Equal Protection rights, among other things, so she needs the court’s help.
But even if you set aside the Satanism aspect of this case, the bigger issue is whether religious exemptions should ever be granted in cases like these, where no one would be hurt by them. We’ve seen judges bend over backwards to accommodate Christians who want to open their churches despite the threat of the coronavirus. And yet I doubt courts will do the bare minimum in this case, even though no one stands to gain anything by forcing the plaintiff to get an ultrasound against her will.
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