Photo by Matt Anderson
We spoke to the director of the Satanic Temple of Detroit about the group's counter-demonstration during the National Day of Protest against Planned Parenthood.
On Sunday, thousands of anti-abortion protesters staged over 300 anti-Planned Parenthood protests around the country as part of the National Day of Protest, an event organized by several anti-abortion groups. At a clinic in Ferndale, Michigan, a group of rather typical protesters had gathered: Some were clad in vests that read "PRAY TO END ABORTION," and several of them held large signs containing graphic images of aborted fetuses. Then the Satanists arrived.
Members of the Satanic Temple descended quickly upon the clinic, holding an American flag emblazoned with an image of the goat-headed deity Baphomet. A pair of women knelt before the flag, their wrists bound. Two fellow protesters, both dressed as members of the clergy, began to douse them in milk while chanting a prayer; the bound women started gasping and sputtering as the cascade continued. Behind them, a woman stood silently, holding a sign: "AMERICA IS NOT A THEOCRACY. END FORCED MOTHERHOOD." In a video recording released by the Temple, an anti-abortion protester mutters indignantly in the background, "They're desecrating our Lord."
According to Jex Blackmore, the director of the Satanic Temple's Detroit chapter, a similar protest occurred in Detroit on the same day—only with "twice as much milk."
The members of the Satanic Temple don't really worship the devil, a fact that may dampen conservative outlets' excitement following the Temple's protests. ("As bad as things get for Planned Parenthood in the coming months, at least they know Satan has their back when things get tough!" the staff of the influential conservative site Twitchy wrote gleefully.) In actuality the Satanic Temple has been described, somewhat accurately, as a group of "First Amendment performance artists." Their founder, Lucien Greaves, defines his beliefs as "non-supernatural" and centered on the "literary construct" of Satan. In recent years, the organization has become a media fixture for protesting various hypocrisies and erosions in the boundary between church and state: Most famously, they constructed a eight-and-a-half-foot tall statue of Baphomet in protest of a six-foot-tall sculpture of the Ten Commandments, which was erected on State Capitol grounds in Oklahoma (and eventually removed).
Recently, the Satanic Temple has turned their attention toward reproductive rights. Blackmore said that she and her fellow Temple members conceived of the counter-demonstration in direct response to the anti-abortion National Day of Protest. "We chose political theatre because we feel that's also very much the opposition's strategy," she told Broadly in an email. "The whole anti-abortion action is incredibly bizarre and we wanted to meet them at their level, but with our own message."
Photos by Matt Anderson
Blackmore explained that the members of her chapter had decided to have men dress as clergymen "to represent the dominant power and voice of the anti-abortion movement." The women, whose wrists were "bound in prayer," represented the way in which the anti-abortion movement is "forcing biblical morals upon a community against their will"; the milk, which Blackmore referred to as "the maternal bath," was "illustrative of forced motherhood."
Ever since an anti-abortion group published deceptively edited videos purporting to show that Planned Parenthood profits from the sale of fetal parts, the organization has been subject to intense and sustained criticism. Conservative politicians in the United States have called for investigations into Planned Parenthood, all of which have failed to find any evidence of wrongdoing. They've also attempted to defund it on both a federal and state level; to date, five states have stripped the group of federal funding.
One of the central tenets of Satanism is that one's beliefs should conform to the best scientific understanding of the world and that one should never distort scientific facts to fit one's own ideas or prejudices. For this reason, Blackmore sees the recent attacks on Planned Parenthood as a violation of her religious principles. "The recent attacks on Planned Parenthood feature a highly edited video that suggests the organization 'sells baby parts for profit,' which is not true," she said. She cited the overwhelming evidence showing that, though some Planned Parenthood locations do donate fetal tissue to research with women's consent, they're merely compensated for costs associated with transporting the tissue. "The practice is completely legal and been going on for nearly a century," Blackmore added.
Another of the main beliefs of the Satanic Temple is the idea that one's body is inviolable, subject to one's will alone. In this regard, the parallels to the abortion rights movement are obvious. "Like the pro-choice movement, we are not pro-abortion," Blackmore said. "Rather, we believe all people are entitled to make informed decisions about their health, family, and future without coercion... We believe that women are full human beings with the moral, ethical, and legal right to decide when and whether to be mothers."
According to Blackmore, her organization has been working on a "comprehensive reproductive campaign" for the past few months. And, as long as religious and conservative groups attempt to infringe on women's basic bodily autonomy, Blackmore and her fellow Satanists will continue to protest. "So long as there are groups attempting to push their religious agenda to end choice for women, we will remain active," she said.
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