Photo: Matt Anderson
On August 22nd, 2015 The Satanic Temple of Detroit interrupted the pro-life national day of protest against Planned Parenthood at the Detroit and Ferndale, Michigan locations. The Temple employed radical political theatre to illustrate the theocratic agenda imposed upon female bodies.
With wrists bound in prayer, two women were drowned in milk at the hands of male clergy. Their bodies callously veiled by the maternal bath. An American flag furnished with a symbol of The Satanic Temple framed the scene, followed by a message: “AMERICA IS NOT A THEOCRACY. END FORCED MOTHERHOOD.”
The Satanic Temple’s core tenets outline the following points:
(1) One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
(2) Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.
The highly politicized pro-life movement advocates for the abolition of Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides critical preventive and primary reproductive health care services to low-income women. The current cornerstone of their argument stems from a fabricated, fictional story that clinics “sell baby parts for profit”. The August 22nd protest was directly intended to irresponsibly perpetuate this contrived story in an attempt to leverage misunderstanding for political gain and impose the moral opinions of some upon a diverse community.
The Satanic Temple strongly opposes the promotion of misinformation and believes that all people are entitled to make informed decisions about their health, family and future without coercion. We will not remain voiceless when the philosophical and religious opinions of those in power are utilized to legislate morality. The attempt to do so violates American foundational values of freedom and liberty.
Satan is representative of the eternal rebel, enlightened inquiry and personal freedom. We consider our action a form of worship; the rejection of tyranny is an affirmation of selfhood. So long as perverted theocratic systems of power attempt to manipulate our communities and distort truths for political gain, we will rebel.
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How did you conceive of the protest?
When we discovered that the national day of protest was coming up we wanted to do something that took it a step beyond a typical counter-protest. We chose political theatre because we feel that’s also very much the opposition’s strategy. They use fictional information as a basis for their outrage and children waive banners of mangled fetuses while church groups sing hymns. The whole anti-abortion action is incredibly bizarre and we wanted to meet them at their level, but with our own message.
What is the significance of the symbols you used (the bound wrists, the protesters dressed a clergy, the milk, etc.)?
The “religious right" is the backbone of the anti-abortion movement. Not only are the protests organized, funded and comprised almost entirely of church groups, biblical scripture is often evoked within the legislature as a rationale behind proposed policy changes. The goal of the pro-life crusade is to end abortion entirely. By restricting access to medication like birth control and options such as abortions, the movement is attempting to force women to accept their moral viewpoints and ultimately, motherhood.
We had males dressed as members of the clergy to represent the dominant power and voice of the anti-abortion movement. Two women with wrists bound in prayer were symbolic of forcing biblical morals upon a community against their will. The women’s bodies were callously veiled in the maternal bath – illustrative of forced motherhood. The American flag featuring a symbol of The Satanic Temple was a reminder that choice, free expression and free exercise of religion or lack thereof are American values – as opposed to the push for theocratic law.
How do the recent attacks on Planned Parenthood contradict the tenets of Satanism?
One of our core tenets is that beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world, and we should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs. The recent attacks on Planned Parenthood feature a highly edited video that suggests the organization “sells baby parts for profit,” which is not true. At a select number of clinic locations (none of which are in Michigan) and with the consent of the donating woman, Planned Parenthood donates fetal tissue for research. They are compensated only to cover costs associated with the donation. The practice is completely legal and been going on for nearly a century. Further, the claim that our tax dollars go to support abortions is additionally misguided. Planned Parenthood receives funding from Title X, the federal grant program dedicated to supporting family planning resources. By law Title X funds cannot be used to pay for abortions. It’s clear that the anti-abortion movement has been utilizing misinformation to manipulate and cause distress to women, push their pre-conceived agenda and rally for policy change with the support of elected officials.
How does the pro-choice movement and Satanism intersect?
In addition to our view that beliefs should conform to the best scientific understanding of the world, we also promote the concept that one’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone. Like the pro-choice movement, we are not pro-abortion and this was not an endorsement of Planned Parenthood. Rather, we believe all people are entitled to make informed decisions about their health, family and future without coercion and with access to care in order to do this. We believe that women are full human beings with the moral, ethical and legal right to decide when and whether to be mothers.
It's hard to tell from the video -- did the police seriously tell you that you couldn't protest in front of the clinic, right next to several anti-abortion protesters?Yes. When someone asked what grounds they had to arrest us they claimed it was due to “pouring milk on the sidewalk”.
Are you currently planning any other action re: reproductive rights?
We have been working on a comprehensive reproductive rights campaign over the past several months. So long as there are groups attempting to push their religious agenda to end choice for women, we will remain active.
The push to restrict access to family planning resources and health clinics such as Planned Parenthood not only has an effect on women, but also men, the economy and our community at large. With the issue being utilized as a campaign platform, we should all be concerned about the future of reproductive rights in America. Legislation will impact all of our lives. We do not have to allow religious zealots to dominate the narrative. If this concerns you in the slightest we encourage you to get involved, creative and active in whatever way you can.