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Judge rules Missouri abortion ban did not aim to impose lawmakers’ religious views on others

A Missouri judge has ruled that state lawmakers who passed a bill restricting abortion access were not trying to impose their religious beliefs on all state residents, despite claims by religious leaders.

The lawsuit, brought by more than a dozen Christian, Jewish and Unitarian Universalist leaders who support abortion rights, was dismissed in Judge Jason Sennheiser’s ruling Friday.

Religious leaders last year sought a permanent injunction to block Missouri from enacting its abortion ban and a declaration that provisions of the law violate the state constitution.

The section of the challenged law reads, “Recognizing that Almighty God is the Creator of life, and that all men and women are endowed by Him with certain inalienable rights, including life.”

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Clergy members and other opponents of Missouri’s abortion law, who filed a lawsuit seeking to repeal the law, march in downtown St. Louis on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023. (Associated Press)

In his decision, Judge Sennheiser noted that the preamble to the Missouri Constitution contains similar language expressing “deep respect for the Supreme Ruler of the universe.”

The judge ruled that the other disputed clauses did not contain explicit religious language.

“The determination that life begins at conception may contradict some religious beliefs, but it is not necessarily a religious belief in itself,” Sennheiser writes, “and therefore does not prevent any man or woman from worshiping Almighty God or from not worshiping him or her according to the dictates of their own conscience.”

The American Coalition for Separation of Church and State and the National Women’s Law Center, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of religious leaders, said in a joint statement that they were considering their legal options in light of the judge’s ruling.

“Missouri’s abortion ban is a direct attack on separation of church and state, religious freedom, and reproductive freedom,” the statement said.

But lawyers representing the state argued that just because some of the law’s supporters oppose abortion for religious reasons, the law does not impose their beliefs on the rest of the state.

Sennheiser said states have historically tried to restrict and criminalize abortion, pointing to statutes that date back more than 100 years.

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Abortion rights activists rally at the Washington Monument before a march to the U.S. Supreme Court on May 14, 2022 in Washington. (Jose Luis Magana/AFP via Getty Images)

“Fundamentally, the only thing that’s changed is that Roe has been overturned, paving the way for more regulation,” he said, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in 2022, allowing states to enact their own abortion laws.

Shortly after Roe v. Wade was overturned two years ago, then-Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Governor Mike Parson (both Republicans) filed paperwork to immediately enact a 2019 law banning abortion except in medical emergencies. The law included provisions that would only go into effect if Roe v. Wade were overturned.

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The law makes performing or inducing an abortion a felony punishable by five to 15 years in prison and doctors who violate the law can lose their medical licenses. Women who undergo abortions cannot be prosecuted under the law.

Missouri, which already has some of the toughest abortion laws in the US, has seen a huge drop in abortions, with residents instead traveling to neighboring states like Illinois and Kansas for abortions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.