A formal lawsuit was filed Monday in an attempt to nullify a recently enacted anti-discrimination ordinance in St. Louis. The legal move was expected from pro-life groups after the Republican dominated state legislature failed to advance measures to override the city law.
The ordinance prohibits housing and employment discrimination based on a person’s reproductive health decisions or pregnancy.
Attorney Sarah Pitlyk says the ordinance is especially problematic because it criminalizes her clients’ practice of requiring their employees to be pro-life. “As soon as this ordinance took effect, my clients became susceptible to criminal penalties just for asking whether the people who want to work with them support their mission” said Pitlyk.
The lawsuit claims the ordinance extends protected class status to any person who supports abortion while it discriminates against backers of pro-life alternatives to abortion. The litigation also charges the law violates numerous federal constitutional rights and state laws.
The suit was filed by the conservative, pro-life think tank Thomas Moore Society on behalf of Our Lady’s Inn, an alternative to abortion pregnancy care center in St. Louis.
Joining the suit were a group of Catholic elementary schools and a company owned by Frank O’Brien, the first for-profit business owner to file a lawsuit in what turned out to be the 2014 Hobby Lobby decision.
The U.S. Supreme Court decided in favor of Hobby Lobby and other litigants that closely held private employers couldn’t be forced to provide contraceptive coverage if they held religious objections.
Pitlyk claims the St. Louis ordinance re-imposes the law struck down by the high court. “There’s an exception for religious institutions, but there’s not an exception for private employers like Frank O’Brien.”
St. Louis Alderwoman Megan Green sponsored the legislation, which is known as Board Bill 203. She says language was inserted in the measure at the request of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
“The exemption language, it should be noted, that was put in the bill was specifically given to us by the archdiocese to include in the bill” said Green. “And they are still suing on the same grounds of the language that was put in to calm their concerns.”
Green also disputes the claim that the ordinance criminalizes employers that require workers to be pro-life. “This has nothing to do about hiring people who are going to advocate for abortion. What it has to do (with) is about allowing women to make personal reproductive choices without fear of being fired.”
According to Green, the St. Louis ordinance is similar to legislation passed in two other cities, Washington D.C. and Boston, as well as the state of Delaware.
Republican Governor Eric Greitens criticized St. Louis aldermen for passing the ordinance back in February. At the time, he vowed he would fight with lawmakers to overturn the law. “We’re working with legislators, faith leaders, women’s advocates, and anyone who values life to fight back against this Abortion Sanctuary City movement” Greitens said.