The Satanic Temple Sought to Upend Missouri Abortion Law. Their Plans Went to Hell

The Satanic Temple Sought to Upend Missouri Abortion Law. Their Plans Went to Hell

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In April, a crowd rallied at Planned Parenthood in St. Louis in support of abortion rights. - DANNY WICENTOWSKI
In April, a crowd rallied at Planned Parenthood in St. Louis in support of abortion rights.

More than four decades separate Mary Doe from Jane Roe, whose attempts at obtaining an abortion led to the Roe v. Wade decision.

Like Doe in 2015, Roe had found herself with limited options in 1969 Texas. Pregnant with her third child at 21, she was willing to try almost anything. She went to the police claiming she'd been raped, hoping Texas law would provide an exception, but she was turned away for lack of evidence. She tried an illegal abortion clinic, but the building had been raided by police.

Like Doe, Roe was eventually referred to a pair of attorneys seeking a plaintiff to help them challenge state laws that criminalized abortion.

After the Supreme Court overturned those laws in 1973, Jane Roe outed herself as Norma McCorvey. But two decades later, her legacy would turn dramatically when she became a pro-life Christian. Until her death in 2017, McCorvey worked to undo the precedent set in her name. She was often quoted describing herself as a "pawn" in the schemes of her pro-abortion lawyers.

For Doe, the problem wasn't a change of belief in the Temple's tenets. In the summer of 2016, Mary Doe still believed she was doing the right thing. Still, she too felt very much like a pawn.

"I wasn't being represented in the way I'd hoped," she says.

Doe claims that she emailed Greaves and MacNaughton that summer to notify them she wanted out of the case. The email triggered a phone call from a furious Greaves.

"Lucien just completely lost his temper," Doe recalls. "He was just screaming, he was talking fast, I couldn't get a word in edgewise. After he hung up, I tried to call him back a couple times, but it didn't work. So I just blocked his number."

Even though Doe had already given a deposition for the Temple's lawsuit in Cole County, the shouting match with Greaves had pushed her to the edge. It was MacNaughton's turn to plead for peace. He deployed what she now describes as "a major guilt trip," begging her not to damage his reputation by leaving the high-profile case.

MacNaughton disputes Doe's version of that conversation; he is adamant that she never made a formal demand to leave the case in 2016. (In general, attorneys are ethically bound to follow client's instructions for representation. A lawyer refusing a client's request to leave a case could risk disbarment.)

"That she was being coerced or bulldozed, that absolutely wasn't the case," MacNaughton says now. "My view was that I have a client, I'm representing her interests in the lawsuit, and it would make it easier for me to do that job if she didn't squabble."

MacNaughton's solution was an unusual one. In a letter sent to Doe dated July 5, 2016, MacNaughton proposed what amounted to gag order of his own client, with financial repercussions if she tried to meddle in the case.

As long as MacNaughton remained her attorney, the agreement stipulated that Doe "have no intentional contact with any member of the Satanic Temple" — which would include Nikki Moungo — and that MacNaughton retain "sole authority to make or authorize publicity" for the case.

There was another provision. If Doe tried to fire MacNaughton on her own, for any reason but "incompetence," the agreement made her liable for a $1,500 termination fee.

The agreement/gag letter sent by MacNaughton represented the last piece of direct communication between Doe and the Temple for nearly two years. After that, Doe says, "I got updates on the case through Google alerts."

It wasn't ideal for the Temple, either. In an interview, MacNaughton says the feud between Greaves and Doe threatened to derail the case with "a lot of ego." Still, MacNaughton maintains that his phone call with Doe ended with her "total agreement" in the conditions of the letter and her continued role as plaintiff. He says he's baffled by Doe's claims to the contrary.

"She had the opportunity to drop this case in 2016 when we talked about it," MacNaughton says. "If she truly felt coerced, that's news to me. I never got that sense from her."

The Satanic Temple made headlines by insisting "Baphomet" should be displayed along with the Ten Commandments. - FLICKR/MARK NOZELL
The Satanic Temple made headlines by insisting "Baphomet" should be displayed along with the Ten Commandments.

For the next two years, Doe's lawsuits sputtered along through the appeals courts. Dismissing the federal lawsuit in August 2016, the district judge ruled that Doe lacked standing, as she "is not now pregnant," and "there is no guarantee that she will become pregnant in the future." MacNaughton pressed on.

But in 2017, with the Satanic lawsuits all but forgotten, something extremely rare happened in Missouri: Its abortion access expanded.

The previous summer, a different federal judge, Howard Sachs, had dropped a bomb on some of the state's medically dubious requirements for abortion clinics. Sachs wrote, "The abortion rights of Missouri women, guaranteed by constitutional rulings, are being denied on a daily basis, in irreparable fashion."

This had nothing to do with the Satanic Temple. Sachs' broadside was based on the 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, in which the justices found that Texas had enacted medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion providers, effectively closing clinics and reducing access to health care.

Sachs' ruling had an immediate effect. Clinics in Kansas City and Columbia, which had long ago lost their abortion licenses, were suddenly able to serve patients again. For the first time, clinics in Joplin and Springfield made plans to offer medication-assisted abortions.

The Satanic Temple managed to clatter into the story. A widely shared article declared confidently, and wrongly, that Missouri's flash-renaissance of abortion access was "thanks to Planned Parenthood and Satanists." (Breitbart carried the error into the realm of fantasy, suggesting Planned Parenthood was "teaming up" with the worshipers of the child-sacrifice-demanding Moloch.)

In reality, the Temple's lawsuits were irrelevant, though the Satanists did their best to spin to the contrary.

Notably, after the Missouri Supreme Court heard the Temple's appeal in January 2018, the Temple released a statement touting an "unprecedented triumph for the Satanic Temple," a curious claim given that the alleged "triumph" amounted to Missouri's Solicitor General John Sauer admitting that an abortion patient "is entitled to decline" an ultrasound procedure – a point the state had already acknowledged in its 2015 motion to dismiss Doe's lawsuit.

It was an example of the Temple clumsily stretching for some positive public attention. Nikki Moungo, who left the Temple in 2017, says she wasn't surprised by the attempt to create the appearance of victory.

"This was no great epic moment where the Satanic Temple held someone's feet to the fire," Moungo says scornfully. "They called this little clusterfuck a win. I haven't received any benefit from them not knowing the ultrasound law."

And in Missouri, any win for abortion rights tends to be short-lived. And so it was in 2018, when a federal court undid the ruling that had allowed Missourians to live, briefly, in a state with more than one abortion provider.

With a ruling by the Eighth District Court of Appeals, the window of expanded abortion access slammed shut. Once again, Missouri mandated that its abortion doctors obtain hospital admitting privileges. In Columbia's Planned Parenthood clinic, patients were told that they'd have to reschedule and drive to St. Louis. Clinics in Joplin and Springfield scrapped plans to offer medical abortions. Less than a year after Sachs' ruling seemed to herald a major expansion, Missouri was back to a single abortion provider.

In some alternate version of events, this would have been the perfect moment for the Satanic Temple to ride in to the rescue. What could be more unprecedented, more triumphant, than someone like Mary Doe forcing the state to reckon with empowered Satanists?

But by February 2019, Doe had lost faith in the Temple. That month, she emailed MacNaughton, making contact for the first time since accepting the gag agreement in 2016. She wrote to serve notice "of my wish to withdraw from the case." Once again, the Temple and MacNaughton were faced with the alarming possibility that their client wanted to destroy their lengthy and expensive lawsuit.

This time, MacNaughton does not dispute that Doe emailed him with a direct request to leave the case. However, he says his first attempts to respond by email and phone where unsuccessful.

It didn't matter. Days after Doe's email arrived in MacNaughton's inbox, the Missouri Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the lower court's decision to dismiss the case — again without ever addressing the core question of whether Missouri abortion laws infringed on Doe's Satanic beliefs.

It was over. And Mary Doe wasted no time going public.

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