While conservative Christians have been quick to label many things “Satanic” or “demonic” — LGBTQ people, furries, rock and roll music, dungeons and dragons — they have consistently accused abortion advocates of working under the influence of the devil.
For example, during his run for the Republican nomination for a Colorado congressional seat last year, Tim Reichert came under scrutiny for his past statements comparing abortion to human sacrifice.
“Every abortion is a human sacrifice,” Reichert said in a 2021 acceptance speech for an award from Catholic Charities of Denver, which opposes abortion. “Every abortion feeds the demonic and thereby contributes directly to the demise of the church, the demise of America, and the demise of the West.”
During an August, 2022, presentation at Colorado Christian University, anti-abortion activist Seth Gruber invoked the story Moloch, a Canaanite deity associated in biblical sources with the practice of child sacrifice, during a presentation that also compared transgender people to the Christian heresy of gnosticism.
Last Thursday, the Satanic Temple (TST) announced the launch of Samuel Alito’s Mom’s Satanic Abortion Clinic. According to TST’s Facebook announcement, “Samuel Alito’s Mom’s Satanic Abortion Clinic will provide medical abortion medication through the mail to those who wish to perform our Religious Abortion Ritual. Travel accommodations may be available for members living outside of New Mexico. The Satanic Temple and TST Health are committed to protecting bodily autonomy, assuring religious abortion access, and providing free quality care.”
The conservative response to TST’s announcement has been predictable. “The fact that the Satanic Temple plans to set up a ritual abortion clinic in New Mexico speaks volumes about who is really behind the abortion agenda,” Elisa Martinez, founder of New Mexico Alliance for Life, told LifeNews, an anti-abortion news blog, in a story with the headline “Satanic Temple Opens New Abortion Clinic to Kill Babies in Ritualistic Abortions.”
“Their willingness to flaunt the practice of ending innocent human life as a ritualistic sacrifice shows how New Mexico public officials have cooperated with this evil by turning the state into the thriving taxpayer-funded abortion capital of the Southwest and even America,” Martinez said.
Later that day on Facebook, Martinez shared Ephesians 6:12 — “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” — and a screenshot of the New Mexico Legislature’s website with “displaying 666 of 666 result(s)” highlighted.
“Same day the Satanist temple announced plans to open a ritual abortion center here!” wrote Martinez. “Christians: are you awake yet?”
U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) also weighed in on Twitter. “The Satanic Temple is now opening abortion clinics that will perform abortion as a Satanic ritual,” she wrote. “This is what the Left really meant by ‘safe, legal, and rare.’”
Piggybacking on the conservative outrage over singer-songwriter Sam Smith’s Satanic imagery in their Grammy performance, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) tweeted, “The Grammy’s featured Sam Smith’s demonic performance and was sponsored by Pfizer. And the Satanic Church now has an abortion clinic in NM that requires its patients to perform a satanic ritual before services. American Christians need to get to work.”
As the recent Supreme Court ruling in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case shows, American Christians have been at work dismantling abortion rights. The Alliance Defending Freedom, whose founders include Bill Bright of the Campus Crusade for Christ and James Dobson of Focus on the Family, is currently involved in a lawsuit that is seeking to repeal FDA approval of medication abortion.
In New Mexico, Right to Life of East Texas Director Mark Lee Dickson has been hard at work with his Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn initiative, scoring a high-profile victory in Hobbs, New Mexico, which passed a municipal abortion ban, despite the state’s Democratic supermajority. Last Tuesday, Dickson held a “Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn Rally” in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Dickson’s efforts to pass a similar measure in Pueblo, Colorado, last year were unsuccessful.
Evangelical Christians and conservatives have been working to roll back abortion protections for decades. “It actually didn’t start until the 1970s,” says Rev. Mallory Everhart, a pastor at Vista Grande Community Church, United Church of Christ, in Colorado Springs. “There were Southern Baptist preachers who were actually pro-choice, for instance. As the relationship between Richard Nixon and Billy Graham started to really come to fruition, you really saw this horrible intermarriage of politics and Christianity in which we are now inheriting.”
TST’s efforts in New Mexico are another example of their attempts to turn the paradigm of Christian conservatives influencing public policy on its head. “When it comes to the Religious Reproductive Rights campaign, the campaign is specifically focused on us affirming our religious rights when it comes to access to abortion, in relation or in line with our religious beliefs,” explains Chalice Blythe, a media relations specialist for TST national and an ordained Minister of Satan. “We have tenants stating that our bodies are inviolable. We have tenants about basing our views on the best scientific knowledge available. We also have tenants relating to seeking justice over the spoken and written word. All of these things come together as far as why we are seeking reproductive justice in the name of our religious rights. It is a little different as far as what others do when it comes to reproductive health access. There are other activist organizations that are specifically fighting for reproductive justice when it comes to just the basic of [abortion] as a human right. That’s what abortion is. It is a very, very standard medical procedure. That decision should be left to the pregnant person, and that conversation should only be had with their doctor and should not include any other parties.”
Prior to the announcement of the Samuel Alito’s Mom’s Satanic Abortion Clinic, TST’s Religious Reproductive Rights advocacy was largely focused on lawsuits challenging state-level restrictions on abortion. “Since the beginning of TST’s existence, we’ve utilized various methods and we’ve tackled various issues surrounding reproductive justice under our protection as a religious people,” explains Blythe. “Specifically utilizing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act or RFRA. There are several things we’ve done. We have challenged the waiting periods and we have challenged the indoctrination materials that clinics are — in certain states — required to give people who want to have an abortion. The literature is scientifically invalid. It is meant to dissuade somebody from seeking medical care, specifically using, language that is meant to shame, guilt and also place personhood upon the fetal tissue. They justify waiting periods by saying that somebody needs to take the time to process the literature before they can actually obtain the procedure. They also have requirements for ultrasounds to hear the ‘heartbeat,’ even though that’s not what it is. All of these things we have challenged under referencing that we have exemptions from being subjected to that because the material is religiously motivated and violates our beliefs.”
Nikki Muongo, a former member of TST’s St. Louis congregation, notes that in her experience, TST’s legal advocacy is not always effective. “I was the lead in the Mary Doe cases and Ms. Doe’s main contact for the Missouri abortion cases,” she said via email. “I was there from the beginning of that effort. Mary and I became close during this process, and she was more than a case to me, she was a friend. My co-chapter head and I attended every hearing in support of Mary and followed the cases closely. Meanwhile, communications between Mary and [Lucien Greaves, founder of TST] had derailed, and I felt out of the loop as well. Whatever input we contributed, we felt it was not valued. Once I was no longer with the temple, Mary contacted me to see if I could help her extricate her from the cases as she no longer wanted to be involved. It was at this time the second TST case in Missouri had failed. There seemed to be a glaring lack of familiarity with the very legislation or policies we were contesting.”
Others have criticized TST’s fundraising around abortion-related causes, especially in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision, when abortion funds saw a marked increase in requests for assistance in obtaining an abortion. In Colorado, the Cobalt Abortion Fund saw a significant increase in requests for support from out of state patients. According to a report from August, 2022, from January to July 31 of 2022, the Cobalt Abortion Fund spent $209,647 on funding procedures, up from the $102,780 spent during the same period in 2021. Cobalt has spent $115,250 on practical support, which includes travel expenses and lodging for out-of-state abortion patients, during the same period this year, compared to just $874 in 2021.
“The Satanic Temple cannot help you get an abortion, and it does not deserve your support,” the Twitter account QueerSatanic, run by the former TST members facing an ongoing legal battle for defamation from TST, has warned.
Blythe argues that TST’s funds aren’t detracting from fundraising efforts of other abortion advocacy groups. “We have private donors, merchandise sales on shopsatan.com, you know, that can go towards the effort,” she says. “On top of that, all of us are volunteers. All of that time and effort is paid for in our own sweat, blood, and tears. It’s just donations from members, merchandise sales, private donors and grants from foundations. … When it comes to funding, that’s how that happens, and just [from] our own pockets.”
While TST’s national leadership runs its Religious Reproductive Rights campaign, individual congregations, which are in theory autonomous, do their own fundraising. Embur Rayne, a TST novitiate and a burlesque performer with the troupe ConSensual Circus, which performed at TST Colorado’s Dec. 17 Saturnalia event, described their efforts to support abortion funds.
“ConSensual Circus did a fundraiser when Roe v Wade — when everything was happening and it was overturned,” said Rayne after her Saturnalia performance. “We did a fundraiser where we raised over $800 for our Midwest Access Coalition. That money went directly to help people to get to a state where they can get a safe, legal abortion. It also paid for their stay and paid for the procedure. It pays for everything. Getting involved with that was really amazing, and also just doing performance art like the act I did tonight to kind of bring awareness to abortions and the reality of what it truly is. Unfortunately, even in Colorado, people are pushing religion in these centers. I think it’s really disgusting. You’re already in such a vulnerable place when you are going to get an abortion.”
Rayne, who like many TST members experienced religious trauma in her childhood, has firsthand knowledge of the stigma attached to abortion. “I found out I was pregnant a little bit before six weeks,” she said. “I got a surgical abortion right at that six-week mark. Then a month later I found out that I was still pregnant with the same fetus. When I went to the doctors, they told me it was a very freak incident and that this doesn’t really happen and that the fetus wasn’t healthy enough and I couldn’t carry it, so I had to have a second abortion for the same pregnancy. That was really hard.”
Despite the controversy, TST will continue to engage in advocacy. “All we can really do is affirm who we are and who we aren’t,” says Blythe. “Our actions are a reflection of our deeply held values. Those values do not include things like child sacrifice or anything like that. Because of that, we understand and acknowledge that the world is what it is and we understand people’s fears. That fear and that discomfort cannot stop us from seeking justice. It cannot stop us from doing what motivates our actions and standing firm. Because if we don’t … we would lose all of our rights in the blink of an eye. And, you know, I think it is inherent in even the iconography, even when we call ourselves Satanists, it is a positive affirmation of who we are and what we identify with.”