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Missouri Republicans’ Ban on Abortion ‘Sanctuary Cities’ Might Not Actually Do Anything

Teddy Wilson

GOP lawmakers are attacking a St. Louis anti-discrimination ordinance for something it doesn't even do.

Missouri lawmakers are debating legislation that targets so-called abortion sanctuary cities, which prohibit discrimination based on reproductive health decision—though it is unclear if the bill would have the effect lawmakers claim.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen on February 10 passed Board Bill 203, which prohibits discrimination based on a person’s reproductive health decisions. The ordinance bans employers and landlords from discriminating against people who have had abortion care, use contraceptives, or are pregnant.

St. Louis Alderwoman Megan Green told Missourinet that the legislation under consideration by state legislators will not affect the city’s ordinance.

“The piece of legislation that they are trying to pass, that they are saying that is in response to our local nondiscrimination ordinance, it doesn’t actually address our local nondiscrimination ordinance,” Green said.

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The St. Louis ordinance includes exemptions for any “religious institution, corporation, association, society, health care facility or educational institution with historic religious affiliation.”

Opponents claim the ordinance would target religiously affiliated fake clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers. Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) claimed in a post on Facebook that the ordinance “attacks clinics that help women.” Fake clinics have been found to peddle misinformation about abortion care in efforts to dissuade pregnant people from undergoing the procedure. 

The governor’s claim surprised Green, who told KMOV she thought the governor “either didn’t read or was not appropriately briefed” on the details of the ordinance. “He talked specifically about crisis pregnancy centers, and the bill makes no mention of that,” Green said.  

Bridget VanMeans, president of ThriVe St. Louis, told Missourinet that the ordinance puts religiously affiliated organizations at risk. “I believe that this bill is a slippery slope that comes against protecting protected groups” VanMeans said.

ThriVe, one of more than 60 anti-choice fake clinics in the state, has been criticized by reproductive rights activists for the dissemination of “sensationalized propaganda” about abortion care.

When Greitens announced a special legislative session this month, he claimed “pregnancy care centers are under attack” in St. Louis, and called for legislation to prevent cities or municipalities from enacting laws prohibiting fake clinics from misleading pregnant people about reproductive choices.

SB 5, sponsored by state Sen. Andrew Koenig (R-Manchester), was introduced during the special session and combined elements of the two other senate bills, including language intended to nullify the St. Louis ordinance. The bill has been passed by both the house and senate, but amendments made by both chambers will likely require the bill be sent to a conference committee. Greitens has expressed support for the house version.

Both versions of the bill would prohibit cities and municipalities from passing ordinances that require people or organizations to “participate in abortion.” Both include protections for “alternatives to abortion agencies”—meaning anti-choice fake clinics.

State Sen. Jill Schupp (D-Creve Coeur) told Rewire that she thinks supporters of the GOP legislation have used the term “abortion sanctuary city” to exploit the anti-immigrant rhetoric used by Republicans attacking cities that refuse to cooperate with the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda. 

“It’s horrible to use this in the immigration realm, and it’s horrible to pretend that this bill has anything to do with a sanctuary city,” Schupp said. “This bill does not do what it purports to do.”

Some of the provisions in SB 5 are already prohibited by the St. Louis ordinance.  SB 5 would prohibit local ordinances that require “an employer, employee, health care provider, health plan provider, health plan sponsor, or any other person to provide coverage for or to participate in a health plan that includes benefits that are not otherwise required by state law.”

The city’s ordinance states that it does not require a “religious institution, corporation, association, or society to provide reproductive health benefits of any kind.”

Green told Missourinet she thinks state lawmakers’ efforts will be in vain. “They’re passing laws that either ‘a,’ will not be held up by the Supreme Court and will get struck down…or ‘b,’ don’t actually do anything to impact our local nondiscrimination ordinance,” Green said.

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