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Editorial: Missouri's abortion ban reads like a sermon. That's a constitutional problem

St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Board, St. Louis Post-Dispatch on

Published in Op Eds

Among the problems with state abortion bans is that they are generally an expression of the religious convictions of the legislators who pass them. America isn’t supposed to be a theocracy. But challenging such laws as violating the separation of church and state is difficult because proponents can just claim they were enacted for secular rather than religious reasons.

But leave it to Missouri’s radical-right Legislature to say the quiet part out loud. Their strict new abortion ban plainly declares that lawmakers are serving “Almighty God.” It was approved after floor debate that was equally proselytizing. Pro-choice faith leaders are now suing to overturn the law. They allege it violates Missouri’s Constitution, which, like its federal counterpart, explicitly prohibits government promotion of religion. It’s a strong case.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision establishing a constitutional right to abortion, handed down 50 years ago Sunday, effectively said life begins when a fetus could viably survive outside the womb (generally, the end of the second trimester). Until viability, states couldn’t deny women the right to end a pregnancy. It was a standard rooted in medical science.

The counterargument that life begins at conception is primarily rooted in Christianity. Freedom to promote religious belief is a fundamental American right — unless the people doing it are acting in their official capacity as elected representatives.

With the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe in June, Missouri’s draconian “trigger law,” passed three years earlier, went into effect, outlawing all abortion except in medical emergencies. The Republicans who passed it didn’t even bother to pretend it wasn’t an expression of their Christian faith. “In recognition that Almighty God is the author of life … ” begins that section of the statute.

As the Post-Dispatch’s Michele Munz reports, the lawsuit filed Thursday in St. Louis Circuit Court also identifies numerous comments by legislators specifying the religious motivation behind the law during their floor debate in 2019.

“As a Catholic, I do believe life begins at conception, and that is built into our legislative findings,” said then-Rep. Nick Schroer, R-St. Charles County, the bill’s lead sponsor.

 

“From the Biblical side of it … life does occur at the point of conception,” declared Rep. Barry Hovis, R-Cape Girardeau County.

“From the one-cell stage at the moment of conception, you were already there … you equally share the image of our Creator,” said Rep. Ben Baker, R-Newton County.

Then there’s this extended sermon by then-Rep. Holly Thompson Rehder, R-Sikeston: “God doesn’t give us a choice in this area. He is the creator of life. And I, being made in His image and likeness, don’t get to choose to take that away, no matter how that child came to be. To me, life begins at conception, and my God doesn’t give that option.”

And now the options of women throughout Missouri have been curtailed based on religious beliefs they don’t necessarily share. Hopefully, the courts will take the separation of church and state more seriously than these lawmakers did.

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©2023 STLtoday.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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