The Satanic Temple of St. Louis has raised enough money via the GoFundMe crowdsourcing website to pay for a southwest Missouri woman to travel to St. Louis for an abortion.
The financial help is needed, they say, because Missouri law burdens women seeking abortion with a 72-hour waiting period after consulting a provider. And a bevy of targeted regulations and restrictions has whittled down the number of Missouri abortion providers to just one — the Planned Parenthood in the Central West End. That leaves women from rural Missouri with few choices that don't involve significant expense.
"I think it's horrible in a lot of ways to make someone have that amount of waiting period," the woman, who asked that we not use her real name, tells Daily RFT.
A 22-year-old mechanic living somewhere in southwest Missouri, the woman (we'll call her Mary) found out she was pregnant almost three months ago, and she decided to get an abortion. However, she says she didn't have the resources to fund the four-hour drive to St. Louis, let alone multiple return trips or housing arrangements during the 72-hour waiting period.
"I personally would have liked to have the procedure done as soon as possible," says Mary, who's nearly twelve weeks pregnant. "But with all the difficulties, how hard it is do this, it's been put off for several weeks. If you're right on the edge of the state you've got to go 500 miles just to get to St. Louis, and you have to make arrangements."
Mary voiced her anxieties to friends connected with the Satanic Temple in St. Louis, and on Wednesday the chapter launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise the $800 that would pay for her transportation and lodging in St. Louis. Mary will cover the cost of the procedure herself.
Here's the video that accompanied the campaign:
The money was raised in a day.
The Satanic Temple is a fairly recent invention by Bostonian Doug Mesner (a.k.a. Lucien Greaves) and a group of like-minded contrarians. Since 2012, the group has engaged in a campaign of sacrilegious subterfuge against what they consider to be the very un-American mixing of religious beliefs with individuals' civil liberties.
"We want to unseat the majority religion from its position of privilege," says Damien Ba'al, who founded the Satanic Temple's St. Louis chapter last year. "We don't like the idea of there being a majority religion getting pretty much whatever they want and dictating their beliefs. We want religious freedom to apply to everyone, not just one variant. "
Indeed, with a combination of pranksterism and legal arguments, the Satanic Temple is fighting to expose the hypocrisy and favoritism of "religious freedom" in America today. Last year, the organization distributed satanic activity booklets in some Florida public schools after a judge permitted an evangelical group to distribute Bibles; the Satanic Temple is currently petitioning Oklahoma to erect a giant statue of the goat-headed Baphomet outside a courthouse, right next to the statue of the ten commandments.
But the Satanic Temple's campaign in Missouri goes much further than any of the its previous campaigns, and that's where Mary comes in.
When Mary arrives at the Planned Parenthood office in St. Louis, she plans on telling her doctor that the state's insistence on forcing her read potentially inaccurate educational material about abortions, as well as waiting the 72 hours, directly conflicts with her sincerely held beliefs as a Satanist.
"As you know, state law requires a waiting period after I first receive counseling before I can undergo an abortion," reads a document Mary will hand her doctor. "I regard a waiting period as a state sanctioned attempt to discourage abortion by instilling an unnecessary burden as part of the process to obtain this legal medical procedure. The waiting period interferes with the inviolability of my body and thereby imposes an unwanted and substantial burden on my sincerely held religious beliefs."
Here's the full document:
Drafted by the national chapter of the Satanic Temple, the document represents a fusion of the arguments commonly used by religious (read: Christian) groups to argue that sincerely held religious beliefs trump things like scientific consensus. The nature of sincerely held religious beliefs recently took on local and national importance: A "Religious Freedom" bill in Indiana sparked wide criticism for seeming to allow store owners to deny service to LGBT customers. Last month, Springfield voters narrowly defeated anti-discrimination ordinance after religious groups loudly complained that the law would force them to violate their beliefs about the inherent sinfulness of gay people.
But is the Satanic Temple really a religion? Can an organization that is fundamentally atheist claim to have beliefs? According to Ba'al, those questions became legally irrelevant when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Christian-run business Hobby Lobby can deny contraception coverage to its employees — not because Hobby Lobby made specific scientific or legal arguments, but because the company simply claimed contraception insurance violated its sincerely held religious beliefs.
"Our beliefs are all things like bodily autonomy and personal freedom, anything you would see in a typical, secular philosophy," Ba'al says. "We define religion as sincere, deeply held belief. That's the essence of any religion. The only difference is that most people's beliefs contain some sort of supernatural component, and we're totally opposed to supernaturalism."
The idea of using sincerely held religious beliefs as a tool to undermine the largely Christian-conservative opposition to abortion originated last year, when the national Satanic Temple announced that it would would seek to gain religious exemption to "informed consent" abortion laws that require women to read educational materials designed to dissuade them from terminating their pregnancies.
So far, no women have attempted to use this Satanic loophole. Until now.
"I know that there are people who have opposite views of what myself and the Satanic Temple have, but I think if they really took a good look at how difficult they were making it for women to get this procedure they need, they would see it's really against their own principles," Mary says. "I'm hoping there can be progress made changing the laws as they are right now."
When asked about the timeline of bringing Mary to St. Louis, Ba'al declined to comment. "We're not going to talk about that."
But after the success of the GoFundMe campaign, Ba'al says the Satanic Temple is considering setting up fundraisers for other women in need. At the same time, the national organization launched a legal aid fund to take this new fight — defending a woman's religious right to reproductive freedom — all the way to court.
Update, 11:45 a.m.: Mary Kogut, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, tells Daily RFT that the organization has no knowledge of the Satanic Temple's plans to challenge Missouri's abortion restrictions.
"Right now, the law says we must provide our state mandated informed consent and at least 72-hours prior to an abortion procedure," she says. "Planned Parenthood does and will follow the law at all times."