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Religious leaders sue to overturn Missouri's abortion ban

Rev. Traci Blackmon is one of 13 religious leaders who filed suit challenging Missouri's abortion ban Thursday. They allege the abortion ban violates the separation of church and state and is unconstitutional. Photo courtesy of American United For Separation of Church and State.
1 of 3 | Rev. Traci Blackmon is one of 13 religious leaders who filed suit challenging Missouri's abortion ban Thursday. They allege the abortion ban violates the separation of church and state and is unconstitutional. Photo courtesy of American United For Separation of Church and State.

Jan. 19 (UPI) -- A coalition of 13 religious leaders filed suit Thursday to overturn Missouri's abortion ban, saying the ban unconstitutionally imposes one narrow religious doctrine on all Missouri residents and violates separation of church and state.

The suit comes on what would have been the 50th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision, which guaranteed abortion rights until it was overturned last year.

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Thirteen clergy from six different denominations represented by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) and the law firm Arnold & Porter are the plaintiffs.

"The people of Missouri have the absolute right to live free from the religious dictates of others," the lawsuit begins. "The Missouri Constitution protects that right by ensuring a strict separation of church and state. But this fundamental guarantee of religious freedom for all is under attack: In a years-long crusade against abortion access, state officials have weaponized their religious beliefs to control the bodies and deny the autonomy of women and all who can become pregnant, jeopardizing their health, lives, and futures."

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The clergy plaintiffs said in the suit that Missouri's abortion ban violates the separation of church and state and the suit asked the court to hold that the abortion ban provisions "are unconstitutional establishments of religion that cannot be enforced."

"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 the Rev. Traci Blackmon, association minister of justice and local church ministries for the United Church of Christ.

"The people of this State, through their Constitution, have spoken loud and clear: We each have the right to decide for ourselves whether and what to believe and practice when it comes to matters of faith," the suit said. "In enacting and enforcing the Challenged Provisions, legislators imposed their preferred religious doctrine on everyone, forcing the citizens and taxpayers of this State to fund the establishment of that doctrine and to obey it regardless of their own faith and beliefs, and irrespective of the resulting grave harms to those seeking abortion care."

Missouri bans abortions except in medical emergencies. Medical providers who perform abortions can be sent to prison for 5-15 years and lose their medical licenses.

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The thirteen religious leaders suing Missouri are:

  • Rev. Traci Blackmon of the United Church of Christ
  • Rev. Barbara Phifer, a United Methodist minister
  • Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis
  • Rev. Molly Housh Gordon of the Unitarian Universalist Church
  • The Right Reverend Bishop Deon K. Johnson, Eleventh Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri
  • Rabbi James Bennett of St. Louis
  • Rev. Holly McKissick of Peace Church United Church of Christ
  • Rev. Krista Taves. minister of Congregational Life at Eliot Unitarian Chapel
  • Rev. Cynthia S. Bumb of United Church of Christ.
  • Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis
  • Rabbi Andrea Goldstein of Congregation Shaare Emeth
  • Rev. Janice Barnes
  • Rabbi Douglas Alpert of Congregation Kol Ami

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