Missouri lawmakers are reviewing a proposal to permit what are being referred to as “alternatives to abortion” agencies to engage in religious practices and speech without government interference.
The measure is meant to block ordinances, such as one being considered in St. Louis, which would penalize the centers for refusing to hire people who might recommend an abortion.
Diane Vaughn heads an “alternatives to abortion” agency called Thrive St. Louis. She says the ordinance, if enacted, would violate her organization’s freedom of speech rights.
“By providing abortion coverage for Thrive employees, it would becontradictory and hypocritical when we don’t refer our clients to an abortion provider.”
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Senator Wayne Wallingford of Cape Girardeau, says ordinances in numerous cities such as San Francisco, New York and Austin, Texas infringe on the rights of “alternatives for abortion” agencies in various ways, sometimes through zoning restrictions.
While introducing his measure Wednesday in the Senate Seniors, Family and Children Committee, Wallingford called it a simple First Amendment bill about our constitution.
Representatives from NARAL Pro Choice America and Planned Parenthood testified against the proposal, both raising concerns over a Thrive St. Louis mobile unit, which regularly parks adjacent to only abortion provider in Missouri, a Planned Parenthood location in St. Louis. Both representatives claimed the mobile unit was strategically stationed to distribute nonfactual information about the procedure.
Democratic committee member Jill Schupp of Creve Coeu criticized to Thrive St. Louis for asking the state to override local law.
“I’m hearing this testimony and I’m, quite frankly, offended by it” said Schupp. “I think that coming here to put preemptive laws into place so that local communities don’t have their say about what they believe is important, is over stepping.”
The ordinance being considered in St. Louis is Board Bill 203. Wallingford said it would have the effect of penalizing pregnancy resource centers or maternity homes that refuse to hire someone who counsels in favor of abortion, or which fired an employee for referring an abortion. Violators could be fined up to $500 and imprisoned up to 90 days in jail.
Thrive St. Louis’ Vaughn says the ordinance would interfere with the organization’s religious beliefs and mission to discourage abortions.
“We’ve learned that the more accurate information a woman has been given, and the more that they learn to trust the relationship that we have with them, the more empowered that she’ll be to make the best decision for herself and her unborn child.”
The committee did not vote on the legislative proposal. Democrat Schupp made a prediction. “I know this legislation, because of the makeup of our legislature, is likely to go forward.”