St. Louis anti-discrimination law at issue in special session could be kept largely intact | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis anti-discrimination law at issue in special session could be kept largely intact

Jun 29, 2017

One of the main reasons Gov. Eric Greitens called a second special session was because of a St. Louis anti-discrimination ordinance dealing with women’s reproductive choices. Media outlets, including St. Louis Public Radio, have stated that Republican Sen. Andrew Koenig’s bill would completely overturn that law.

But that’s not the view of Koenig, Greitens’ office or the Democratic sponsor of the city law. They all agree the bill would prevent the law from being enforced against pregnancy resource centers that discourage women from having abortions.

The St. Louis law in question keeps employers and landlords from denying a woman a job or evicting her because she had an abortion or use contraception. It’s similar to laws adopted in Boston, Washington, D.C., and Delaware. If somebody violates it, they could be fined or face a short jail sentence.

Greitens contends the law, which is being challenged in court, harms pregnancy resource centers. Before the now-interrupted special session began June 12, Greitens visited a pregnancy resource center in St. Louis and later stated: “It's important for us not to be attacking our pregnancy care centers, which is what this ordinance has done, but actually supporting them.”

Here’s how Greitens spokesman Parker Briden described Koenig’s legislation in an email Thursday to St. Louis Public Radio:

“The bill passed by the House, which the Governor supports, preempts the STL ordinance in specific areas:

(1) alternatives to abortion agencies;

(2) requiring participation in an abortion against a person’s religious beliefs;

(3) requiring someone to participate in a real estate transaction with (i.e., renting a building to) an abortion facility; and

(4) requiring an employer to cover abortions in health insurance plans.

We've made our goal very clear. We want to protect pregnancy care centers and ensure that St. Louis is not a sanctuary city for abortion where alternatives cannot operate.”

Koenig offered a similar description in an interview on Wednesday. When asked if it was fair to say that his bill would not repeal the entire city ordinance, but exempt pregnancy resource centers, he replied: “Yes, that’s fair.”

“If you have an organization that is a pro-life organization and they’re dealing with those types of issue, to force them to hire someone who’s not pro-life could undermine the entire organization,” the Manchester Republican said. “And we just wanted to make sure that those organizations were protected.”

Alderwoman says state bill has limited impact

Because the city law isn’t being completely overturned, Koenig has taken issue with national articles that contend state lawmakers are making it legal to fire a woman for taking birth control. 

Alderwoman Megan Green, the sponsor of the St. Louis ordinance, said lawmakers in special session are spending "taxpayer money to do essentially nothing."
Credit File photo | Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

“I think it’s one that’s faulty. If you read the language, that’s not what it does,” he said.

St. Louis Alderwoman Megan Green questions whether lawmakers are making any real changes to the ordinance that she sponsored in the Board of Aldermen. The law already exempts groups with historic religious affiliations, which include some pregnancy resource centers.

“It doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of impact on what we passed here at the local level,” Green, 15th Ward, said on June 20 during an episode of the Politically Speaking podcast. “They’re basically seeking to further deregulate crisis pregnancy centers, which already have very, very lax regulations around them.”

Koenig expects the bill’s language will remain the same when lawmakers resume debate in July.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum