Satanic Temple Says Texas Fetal Remains Rule Violates Members' Religious Freedom [UPDATED]

When the state of Texas announced that a new set of rules will require health care facilities to cremate or bury the fetal remains from abortions and miscarriages, as we've previously reported, state officials likely knew they would face some backlash. But they probably didn't imagine that it would come from Satanists.

Earlier this week, the Satanic Temple released a statement declaring that its members would be exempt from the rules because it violates their religious liberties. “The Satanic Temple believes burial rites are a well-established component of religious practices,” a statement on the group's website reads. Contrary to what you might imagine, TST is actually an organized religion that preaches “compassion and empathy towards all creations,” among other things, according to its website. Its tenets emphasize individual freedoms and commitment to scientific facts. The TST FAQs page also answers what's likely most people's biggest question about the religion: "We do not promote a belief in a personal Satan."

The statement goes on, “Members of The Satanic Temple believe in the inviolability of the body and, as such, these rules contradict our fundamental beliefs… For these reasons, members of The Satanic Temple are not required to comply with the Texas rule on fetal remains.”

"We adhere to the most current scientific standards and there's essentially no scientific reasoning to have this tissue sort of raised to a state of personhood," said Jeremy Galloway, co-director of the Austin TST chapter. "It really just is government encroaching in areas where it seems highly inappropriate."

He went on, "From our point of view, this is just another sort of weak, shameless attempt to make abortions for women more difficult and more painful. Anyone that's gone through the process at all, either themselves or with a family member or friend, knows that it's already trying enough, it's difficult. And the idea of having to go through funeral or burial services, it only makes that more difficult and painful."

The rules will take effect on December 19. Previously, health care facilities such as hospitals and abortion clinics were able to dispose of fetal remains in sanitary landfills. When Texas officials quietly announced their plans to change that, the Center for Reproductive Rights wrote Texas a letter in August warning that the proposed rules would “almost certainly trigger costly litigation.”

And the Satanists are ready to start that litigation. "If we have a member that goes to get an abortion and if they're essentially required to go through this process," Galloway said, "we're going to file an injunction on the grounds that it violates our religious freedom. We're prepared to do that."

TST's statement includes a notice that its members will likely require legal support in fighting Texas's rules, and an option to donate to the group's Religious Reproductive Rights Legal Aid. However, Galloway said he couldn't disclose how many donations TST has received since the announcement.

The group has also already filed lawsuits against Missouri, according to its website, arguing that the state's requirements that a woman seeking abortion must be given a booklet claiming life begins at conception as well as wait 72 hours after her first appointment to actually get an abortion are against the Satanist religion. (Texas also has a law mandating that women seeking an abortion must be given a pamphlet about the procedure, which is called A Woman's Right to Know. After being updated Monday, it was criticized for containing numerous medical inaccuracies, as we reported.)

Galloway said that reactions to TST's announcement has been "mixed," but overall the group has been doing well this year. "Especially this year, the interest just keeps growing and growing and growing," he said. "And the more that people's rights are sort of encroached upon, the more people are looking for someone to take a stand. And in many cases, it's The Satanic Temple."

This piece has been updated to include Galloway's comments.
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Carter is the Houston Press fellow. A Seattle native, she graduated from Northwestern University and also has written for Elle, Los Angeles magazine and Ms. Magazine.
Contact: Carter Sherman