STL Post-Dispatch Political Fix: Senate bill could block proposed changes to St. Louis discrimination ordinance

By Celeste Bott St. Louis Post-Dispatch

JEFFERSON CITY • A Senate measure aimed at protecting alternative-to-abortion agencies could serve as a roadblock to a St. Louis bill that would add “reproductive health decisions” to the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance.

Filed by Alderman Megan-Ellyia Green, board bill 203 expands discrimination protections to include “any decision related to the use or intended use of a particular drug, device or medical service, including the use or intended use of contraception or fertility control or the planned or intended initiation or termination of pregnancy.”

It’s an amendment to an ordinance originally intended to cover discrimination in employment and housing, but has since been extended to protect the disabled and the LGBT community.

St. Louis aldermen and state lawmakers both heard testimony about the proposed change on Wednesday.

At the state Capitol, a Senate panel considered SB 41, which would block such ordinances on the grounds that they inhibit the free speech and religious rights of alternative-to-abortion agencies.

Sometimes called “pregnancy resource centers” or “crisis pregnancy centers,” the agencies are often established to counsel women against seeking and abortion, as well as offering other services, such as pregnancy tests and ultrasounds.

Sponsoring Rep. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, said stopping the change in St. Louis was just “one piece of the puzzle,” and that his bill protects the centers’ First Amendment rights.

Anti-abortion advocates said that the city ordinance, should St. Louis aldermen vote to expand it, could have negative consequences for religious institutions, including fines for agencies that elect not to employ anyone who publicly promotes abortion.

“It could definitely cause a lot of problems for our organization,” said Diane Vaughn of Thrive St. Louis. “We want our rights as an organization and as employees to be protected so we’re not subjected to monetary fines, jail time or moral compromise.”

Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, said the state shouldn’t interfere with St. Louis’ ability to pass ordinances that are right for the local community.

“I’m hearing this testimony and I’m quite frankly offended by it,” she said. “I think coming here to put pre-emptive laws into place, so local communities don’t have their say about what they believe is important, is overstepping.”

Crisis pregnancy centers – and funding they receive from the state – have drawn ire from abortion advocates who contend that they provide inaccurate medical information to pregnant women.

Alison Dreith, director of NARAL Missouri, urged lawmakers to revisit that funding, given the state’s budget crisis.

Funding anti-abortion agencies, “instead of sending our kids to schools in buses,” is egregious, Dreith said, referencing recent slashes of K-12 transportation in the state budget.

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