Legislators claiming to follow the Christian Bible are behind America’s rising tide of anti-abortion laws. Rather poetically, a group of Satanists is fighting back. Using its status as a federally recognized religion, The Satanic Temple has developed novel and unorthodox approaches — such as a “Satanic Abortion Ritual” and religious counseling services — to protect the reproductive freedoms of its members.
I spoke with Lucien Greaves, co-founder and spokesperson of The Satanic Temple, who has long been critical of the ever-growing assaults on reproductive rights by evangelical nationalists. Greaves says the organization’s advocacy is crucial now, at a time when “theocratic politicians are doing everything they can to make abortion access illegal or untenable.” Obstacles to safe termination are on the rise in the US, with nearly 600 anti-abortion laws introduced across 47 states in 2021 alone.
“One of our Tenets is that one’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone,” says Greaves. “Another states we should defer to the best available science when making decisions in our lives.” These maxims have naturally led The Satanic Temple to advocate for reproductive rights, most notably in the form of litigation against state governments that have placed undue restrictions on women’s healthcare.
By invoking its special privileges as a religion, The Satanic Temple has filed multiple lawsuits to preserve its congregants’ access to abortions. “We believe we have a duty to protect the reproductive rights of our membership,” emphasizes Greaves. “Their ability to make informed decisions about their own bodily autonomy is sacrosanct to us.”
THE SATANIC TEMPLE VS. MISSOURI
The Satanic Temple was founded eight years ago by Lucien Greaves and Malcolm Jarry. Ever since, the organization has relentlessly pursued its mission as articulated in its Seven Fundamental Tenets, which advocate for reason, benevolence, and justice. Members consider Satan to be a metaphor for rebellion against tyranny, rather than a supernatural deity. Today, The Satanic Temple is an IRS-recognized nontheistic church with over 300,000 members, and was the subject of the documentary, Hail Satan?
Since its inception, The Satanic Temple has launched an array of high-profile public campaigns to protect LGBTQ, minority, and women’s rights. Most famously, the Satanists have been fighting to place a horned goat-headed Baphomet statue next to a Ten Commandments monument on Arkansas Capitol grounds, to ensure that fringe religions have access to the same privileges as the Christian majority.
By invoking its special privileges as a religion, The Satanic Temple has filed multiple lawsuits to preserve its congregants’ access to abortions.
As a tax-exempt church, The Satanic Temple is uniquely positioned to invoke religious privilege — under the Constitution and Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) — to argue for its members’ exemption from such laws. (The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prohibits the government from favoring one religion over another, while the Free Exercise Clause protects citizens’ rights to practice their religion within reasonable limits. RFRA is federal legislation that further ensures religious freedom protections.)
It started in 2015, when The Satanic Temple sued the state of Missouri on behalf of member “Mary Doe.” Before Doe could obtain an abortion, she was legally required to undergo a 72 hour waiting period, see an ultrasound of her fetus, and read a pamphlet advancing the view that life begins at conception. The Satanic Temple claimed that she should be religiously exempt from these measures, as they run contrary to her sincerely held Satanic beliefs.
The lawsuit reached the Missouri Supreme Court, which declined to hear it. “We were dismissed every step of the way — based on ludicrous technicalities — without the actual legal question ever ruled upon,” asserts Greaves. “Judge Henry Edward Autrey sat on the case for over nine months before dismissing the case on the grounds that the plaintiff could no longer be pregnant, thus the case was, according to him, moot.”
In 2018, The Satanic Temple member “Judy Doe” sued Missouri over the undue burdens the state imposed upon her before she could terminate her pregnancy. As explained by Greaves, “These superfluous ultrasounds and ‘informed consent’ materials have nothing to do with being medically informed. Instead, they proselytize a religious viewpoint that having an abortion is morally deranged.” Ultimately, the Eighth Circuit Court dismissed the suit on the grounds that the mandates did not violate Doe’s free exercise of religion or meet the standard for unconstitutionality. The Satanic Temple appealed to the Supreme Court, which decided not to hear the case without giving an explanation.
A RELIGIOUS RIGHT TO SATANIC ABORTIONS
In 2020, The Satanic Temple unveiled a Satanic Abortion Ritual that sanctifies a woman’s self-worth and freedom from coercive forces. This religious ceremony involves reciting two of the Tenets and a personal affirmation while undergoing a voluntary abortive procedure. Participants can include other meaningful rites to instill confidence and affirm their own bodily autonomy.
“We are fighting for our religious right to keep the ritual as we envision it to be, without state inhibitions placed on it,” says Greaves. “To interrupt this process, or impose additional, medically unnecessary procedures to it, would be an imposition upon our constitutionally protected Freedom of Religion.”
This year, The Satanic Temple sued the Southern District of Texas on behalf of a member who received an abortion. She asserted that the state’s non-medical interventions prevented her from performing the Satanic Abortion Ritual, thereby inhibiting her religious practice and violating her deeply held beliefs. The hearing took place in August 2021, and The Satanic Temple currently awaits the decision.
When it comes to helping women burdened by anti-abortion laws, the devil’s work is never done.
“When it comes to helping women burdened by anti-abortion laws, the devil’s work is never done.” In 2020, the Satanists erected cheeky billboards in Miami, Houston, and Dallas that educate passersby on their religious ritual abortion. They also launched an Informed Consent database that is now the most comprehensive directory on state-by-state abortion restrictions. It includes downloadable letters that members can provide to clinics, stating their religious exemption from unneeded yet mandated procedures prior to termination.
Soon, The Satanic Temple will launch its own counseling services, which aim to fulfill the state-required counseling requirements that many patients must undergo prior to an abortion. Rather than stigmatizing women, The Satanic Temple’s professionals will provide judgment-free emotional support and accurate scientific information about the procedure.
“We’re also petitioning the FDA to grant us access to abortifacients (abortion-inducing medications) without being subject to the agency’s regulations,” announces Greaves. “More and more, theocrats are trying to regulate or outright ban pharmaceutical interventions that would terminate a pregnancy. In the case where clinics are shut down or otherwise too prohibitive for people to have a procedure done in them, we’ll hopefully be able to administrate some pharmaceutical abortions to members that request them.”
As pro-life movements and heartbeat bills increasingly take hold in the US, The Satanic Temple is hell-bent on fighting back. “We’ll develop more and more elaborate and secure ways of keeping reproductive rights access to our membership,” Greaves assures. Those who are keen to assist these efforts can contribute to their reproductive rights fundraiser (which covers operations and legal costs), and learn more about the campaigns through Lucien Greaves’ Patreon. To show my support, I picked up a “Satan Wants Reproductive Rights” t-shirt from their store, which carries a variety of items marked with their goat-headed Baphomet sigil. In the name of Satan, The Satanic Temple will keep on finding devilishly clever means to preserve its members’ religious rights to unimpeded abortions.
La Carmina is an award-winning journalist and TV host/producer who reports on alternative culture worldwide – including Japanese Satanists, India’s third-gender community, and Moroccan women that shatter social norms. She is the author of three books published by Penguin Random House, and received a Bronze award from the Society of American Travel Writers. La Carmina writes features for CNN, Time Magazine, Architectural Digest, Business Insider, Sunday Times, and more. Her travel television appearances include “Bizarre Foods,” “CNN Go” and “ABC Nightline.” She is a graduate of Columbia University, and has a J.D. from Yale Law School. Find her subculture stories from over 70 countries on La Carmina Blog, and @lacarmina Instagram.
Editor’s Note: The piece was updated to reflect a recent court decision.