A proposal in the Missouri legislature would nullify an ordinance in St. Louis which makes pregnancy and reproductive health decisions protected classes.
The measure would block enforcement of discrimination laws resulting from the ordinance, such as workplace and housing protections.
House Republican Phil Christofanelli of St. Peter, which is a St. Louis suburb, is sponsoring the proposal (HB 989). He says the ordinance prevents pro-life businesses and religious groups in the city from operating within their values.
“This bill is so broadly written that it makes it impossible to be a pro-life business owner” said Christofanelli. “It makes it impossible to function as the Catholic Church traditionally has functioned.”
House Democrat Stacy Newman of Richmond Heights thinks the proposal is more about legislative control of cities than it is about religious freedom.
“The ordinance makers actually did work with the religious community to make sure that their concerns were addressed” said Newman. “This is all now the legislature saying ‘No, we don’t want cities making their own anti-discrimination ordinances. That’s really what this is about.”
The legislation was drafted with the help of Missouri Right to Life, an ant-abortion group with a strong presence in the capitol and popular support among the many conservative Republicans in the state legislature.
Bill sponsor Christofanelli, who is one of those conservatives, has no problem with the idea that the state would dictate policy to local municipalities. He thinks government functions to protect human life, and that cities exist under state authorization.
“It is for the state government to say what areas of human life it is appropriate for municipalities to regulate. And we have a number of laws on the books currently that restrict what municipalities can and cannot do.”
Christofanelli contends the ordinance would force catholic schools to hire pro-choice teachers and would require a pro-life property owner to lease space to Planned Parenthood. Democrat Newman thinks supporters of the proposal could very well be endorsing discrimination.
“I guess I want to ask them, ‘So they are for pregnant women losing their jobs, pregnant women being denied their housing’. Because that’s what the ordinance prevents.”
Like current legislation to prevent St. Louis from raising its minimum wage, HB 989 presents an unusual role reversal for lawmakers – Democrats focused on local control of government, and Republicans pushing for increased regulation.
A proposal in the state Senate more narrowly targets the St. Louis ordinance, which is known as Board Bill 203. It carves out a niche to shield “alternative to abortion” clinics, also called “pregnancy resource centers”, from the pregnancy and reproductive provisions.
That bill’s sponsor, Republican Senator Wayne Wallingford of Cape Girardeau, points to what conservatives are calling “abortion sanctuary cities” such as San Francisco, New York and Austin, Texas that are infringing on the rights of “alternatives for abortion” agencies.
Christofanelli uses the same terminology, describing his legislation as a bill to ban “abortion sanctuary cities” in Missouri.