On 13 September 2017, the right-wing web site Breitbart reported that Planned Parenthood had “teamed up” with the Satanic Temple, a group that describes itself as a “nontheistic religious organization,” to reverse restrictions in Missouri on the provision of abortion services.
Breitbart’s reporter, Thomas D. Williams, wrote:
Missouri has reportedly doubled its abortion capacity this year “thanks to the Satanic Temple and Planned Parenthood,” who have worked in tandem to fight the state’s restrictions on abortion…The Satanic Temple has often lent its muscle to pro-abortion efforts alongside Planned Parenthood, and in this case has pressured Missouri legislators and worked through the courts to bring about a relaxing of abortion restrictions, according to reports. One of the Temple’s fundamental tenets is that “One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.”
Planned Parenthood and the Satanic Temple have taken separate court cases, both seeking to lower or remove restrictions on abortion rights in Missouri. However, Breitbart’s claim that the two organisations had ‘teamed up’ and “worked in tandem” is false.
We searched court records, press releases and statements from both organizations, as well as news coverage of the Missouri campaigns, but we could find no evidence of collaboration between the two groups. The Satanic Temple tweeted on 14 September:
Despite some reports @PPact & TST are independently fighting arbitrary abortion restrictions. There is neither collusion nor competition.
— The Satanic Temple (@satanicpsalms) September 14, 2017
Satanic Temple spokesperson and co-founder Lucien Greaves told us:
Planned Parenthood has not reached out to The Satanic Temple for any purpose, we’ve never shared resources, and we are in no way acting in collaboration, even if some of our efforts are simultaneous as a result of a shared interest in fighting against oppressive reproductive rights restrictions.
Planned Parenthood also confirmed to us that they had not collaborated or shared resources in any way whatsoever with the Satanic Temple.
The Planned Parenthood Case
In November 2016, Planned Parenthood sued Missouri’s Attorney General, its Director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, and four county prosecutors in an effort to overturn state laws which require abortion clinics to be licensed as “ambulatory surgical centers” and require doctors who perform abortions to have agreements with nearby hospitals to admit or transfer patients there.
The laws have had the effect of reducing Planned Parenthood’s capacity to provide abortions in the state to one clinic in St. Louis.
The organization argues that these restrictions are not medically necessary and “unconstitutionally burden access to abortion in Missouri.” In April 2017, U.S. District Court judge Jeffrey Sachs ruled in favor of Planned Parenthood, and on 11 September 2017, the organization announced it had been licensed to provide abortion services at a second location in Kansas City, and that it would reopen a third clinic in Columbia.
Missouri Attorney General Randall Williams is appealing the case. The Satanic Temple has played no part whatsoever in this lawsuit.
The Satanic Temple Case
The religious group has taken a separate case on both the state and federal levels seeking to overturn Missouri’s informed consent and 72-hour waiting period requirements for women seeking abortions.
The case revolves around a Missouri Satanic Temple member named as Mary Doe, who argues that the state is violating the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment, which forbid the state from endorsing a particular religious viewpoint or curtailing an individual’s right to exercise and follow their personal religious beliefs.
Missouri is doing this, Mary Doe argues, by forcing women to read a booklet which includes religiously-founded claims that human life begins at conception and that abortion therefore entails the destruction of a separate human life, a stance which is reenforced, in her view, by requiring women to look at an ultrasound of the fetus and then wait 72 hours before they can proceed with an abortion.
She also argues that this set of requirements violates her right to live according to her personal religious beliefs, which include the conviction that “a woman’s body is inviolable and subject to her will alone.”
In July 2016, a judge dismissed the case on the basis that Mary Doe was by then no longer pregnant and therefore no longer had standing to sue. However, the Satanic Temple has appealed this decision, and the case has gone before the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. A similar case is moving forward at the state level.
We could find no evidence of Planned Parenthood taking any part or making any intervention in either of these court cases.
In October 2017, an investigation by Buzzfeed revealed that the Breitbart article containing the false ‘teaming up’ claim was prompted by an email to the web site from Mitchell Sunderland, who was then managing editor of Vice’s Broadly platform.
- Update [6 October 2017]: Added origins of Breitbart story.
United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri. “Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood Great Plains et al vs. Peter Lyskowski et al. Complaint.”
United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri. 30 November 2016.
Planned Parenthood Great Plains. “Planned Parenthood Great Plains Midtown KC Health Center Receives Abortion License.”
Planned Parenthood. 11 September 2017.
Autrey, Judge Henry Edward. “The Satanic Temple et al vs. Jeremiah ‘Jay’ Nixon et al – Opinion, Memorandum and Order.”
United States District Court Eastern District of Missouri – Eastern Division. 15 July 2016.
United States District Court Eastern District of Missouri – Eastern Division. “The Satanic Temple et al vs. Jeremiah ‘Jay’ Nixon et al – Complaint.”
United States District Court Eastern District of Missouri – Eastern Division. 23 June 2015.
Bernstein, Joseph. “Alt-White: How the Breitbart Machine Laundered Racist Hate.”
Buzzfeed. 5 October 2017.