Dispatch From the Satanist Battle Against Anti-Abortion Laws

medical_info-e1406326653159Now that a week has passed since we (The Satanic Temple) announced our Right To Accurate Medical Information initiative — an exemption from anti-abortion “informed consent” laws — we are in a position of sufficient time-passed to appraise the initial public reaction and media response. By and large, the response has been impressively positive, with many outlets simply reporting the facts of our campaign, and various publications, such as Bust Magazine, covering the initiative in an unequivocally positive light.

With the lingering sense of public outrage over the Supreme Court’s ill-conceived Hobby Lobby ruling, it is little wonder that our proposed exemption enjoyed a minor national news trend when announced in a press release headlined with:

“Satanists Leverage Hobby Lobby Ruling In Support of Pro-Choice Initiative”

Predictably, this led to some typical skeptical commentary from some of the usual suspects suggesting that TST is “merely” engaging in a PR ploy, a scheme designed to garner media attention. It’s a bizarre criticism that makes little sense to me, as spokesperson for TST, and my reply to various journalists who have questioned our attention-getting tactics has been consistent: Of course we want to bring attention to this campaign. The exemption letter that our counsel has drawn up is simply worthless if nobody uses it. Naturally, nobody can utilize the letter if they are not aware of it. So, yes, we unashamedly seek maximum attention for our Right To Accurate Medical Information initiative, and we genuinely hope that women in the unenviable position of needing an abortion in a state where “informed consent” laws exist will use the letter as an opt-out from the indignity of compulsory state-mandated misinformation.

The fact is, our foundational tenet stating that “the body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone”, as well as our tenet which posits that our “beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world”, and “we should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs,” are direct expressions of our fundamental religious values — deeply-held beliefs shared by many. The fact that we reject supernaturalism and don’t promote the idea of a personal Satan has led some to insist that we are not, in fact, a religion — to which we counter that it is simply unthinkable to legally privilege deeply-held beliefs that are rooted in superstition over those that are not. As stated on our website’s FAQ:

Are we supposed to believe that those who pledge submission to an ethereal supernatural deity hold to their values more deeply than we? Are we supposed to concede that only the superstitious are proper recipients of religious exemption and privilege? In fact, Satanism provides us all that a religion should, without a compulsory attachment to untenable items of faith-based belief: It provides a narrative structure by which we contextualize our lives and works. It provides a body of symbolism and religious practice — a sense of identity, culture, community, and shared values.

There has been some genuine debate among legal scholars regarding the future of our proposed exemption, and how it may hold up in Court (notable among them is Irin Carmon’s analysis on MSNBC’s All In With Chris Hayes). There have also — perhaps inevitably — been some frustratingly ignorant and uninformed commentary from those who either failed to familiarize themselves with our initiative, the meaning of “informed consent” laws, or both. Notable among those was Ira Lupu, a law professor at George Washington University, who expressed confusion to The Atlantic in stating, “These [informed consent] laws create obligations for doctors to inform, not obligations for women to listen or read,” thus adjudging our exemption letter “legally meaningless”. The inanity of the comment is staggering, the equivalent of saying, “women aren’t obligated to receive the informed consent materials, they’re only required to have it given to them.” In fact, if professor Lupu had bothered to learn about Informed Consent materials before commenting, one finds that women are indeed obligated listen to and/or read them, and sign acknowledgment confirming as much. (The Atlantic also confronted the question of whether or not it is superstition that makes a set of deeply-held beliefs a religion with an unequivocal “yes”, openly declaring TST non-Satanic. They further erroneously, and absurdly, stated us as having only a membership of 20, even as we number about 10 thousand, with, incidentally, 20 chapter houses in the works nationwide. When confronted with these errors, as well as simple questions as to why the author chose not to speak to our own legal counsel regarding the proposed exemption, editor David Graham declared it all to be a matter of “opinion”, not requiring amendment, and set about on his Twitter feed announcing, with juvenile self-congratulatory glee, that he was boldly engaged in battle with “the Dark Lord’s followers.”)

Another amazingly idiotic quote was included in a piece posted by the Religion News Service, this time by one Cole Durham, a law professor at Brigham Young University, who stated, “It is not altogether clear to me that even if sincere, their [TST’s] beliefs are in fact religious, as opposed to merely philosophical.” The comment wouldn’t be so bad if he had bothered to qualify his delineation between the two (and demonstrated any understanding of our own beliefs and positions), but then he carried on into the realm of unalloyed stupidity: “informed consent laws are general and neutral laws which do not target any specific religion, and thus would override constitutional free exercise claims.” It beggars the imagination to conceive of an actual law professor who believes that exemptions can only be invoked if and when a law is directly and willfully discriminatory against a specific religion. One wonders if Cole Durham’s misunderstanding is extended to the belief that a Quaker may only claim conscientious objector status only in such cases in which a war is declared in a direct challenge to Quaker pacifism.

The same piece also quotes one Robert Destro, a law professor at the Catholic University of America, who laughably claims that, in the case of the decision of whether or not to distribute informed consent materials, “[…] the doctor has a choice to make: either offer the materials, or not,”… “Religion has nothing to do with it.” In fact, the care provider (not necessarily a doctor) does not have a choice. (And, true to Destro’s faith, the woman’s preferences aren’t considered in the least.) The compulsory materials are state-mandated, and that’s the whole point. Further, it’s simply comical to see a Catholic commentator pretend that he has no concept of how religion might possibly play into this entirely secular issue regarding entirely secular laws that were surely in no way authored under religious influence.

All of this second-rate comedy notwithstanding, a majority of observers seemed to immediately grasp what we are all about, with only the occasional expressions of confusion regarding how, exactly, the Hobby Lobby ruling actually plays in to our Informed Consent exemption, to which I can only defer, again, to our press release:

TST spokesperson, Lucien Greaves, points out that the controversial Hobby Lobby ruling bolsters their cause: “While we feel we have a strong case for an exemption regardless of the Hobby Lobby ruling, the Supreme Court has decided that religious beliefs are so sacrosanct that they can even trump scientific fact. This was made clear when they allowed Hobby Lobby to claim certain contraceptives were abortifacients, when in fact they are not. Because of the respect the Court has given to religious beliefs, and the fact that our our beliefs are based on best available knowledge, we expect that our belief in the illegitimacy of state-mandated ‘informational’ material is enough to exempt us, and those who hold our beliefs, from having to receive them.”

Confusion on this point seems to arise from a strange sense, that a significant minority apparently holds, that the Hobby Lobby ruling is only relevant in the case of corporations looking to deny certain benefits to their employees. A few perplexed commenters have pointed out that we offer our exemption to individuals, not corporations, thus Hobby Lobby surely has no application. A fact of the Hobby Lobby ruling is that The Supreme Court, finding in their favor, posited the personhood of the Hobby Lobby corporation. Individuals are still people as well, and it is indicative of another hideous consequence of the notion of corporate personhood that some of the lay public now seem resigned to the perception that one must be incorporated to fully have one’s personhood realized.

We, The Satanic Temple, feel it is only a matter of time before our exemptions are put to the test and, in the meantime, we are eager to see the battle play out. We have received an encouraging flood of supportive letters — from firm believers in personal sovereignty which have added to our unshakeable motivation — one of which I am happy to share below:

I am writing to say thank you for standing up for all Women’s rights to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term and if they choose the latter to not be bullied and treated as if she is doing an unthinkable act. I have had two abortions, I experienced the information given and the 45 minute video they made me watch to get the procedure I paid over a thousand dollars for, both times mind you. It made me feel as though I was doing something wrong. I fully realized I was not and that it was in the best interest of my situation at that time to end the unwanted, unexpected pregnancy. It is a huge step in the way of combating Hobby Lobby and the Supreme Court’s move to put Women into a rank of lower human than zygotes and men. I’m sure you’re going to get letters saying the opposite of what this one does. I deeply appreciate the work that has gone into giving Women their freedom to choose what is done with their bodies without being treated as though they’re guilty of some horrid act. It is a great thing to know that women will be able to go in without fear[…]