When Gov. Eric Greitens called lawmakers back last month for a special session to work on abortion policies, he planned to overturn an ordinance approved by the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, which in February had voted to ban employers and landlords from discrimination based on reproductive health decisions.
Shortly after the St. Louis ordinance was approved, Gretitens condemned it as an attack on clinics that offer alternatives to abortion. Backers of the ordinance said they were simply acting to prevent discrimination of any kind.
Now, the main bill working its way through the Republican-led Legislature, Senate Bill 5, puts tougher restrictions on abortion clinics in the state and also includes language that would pre-empt any ordinance, rule, regulation or policy which could affect agencies that promote alternatives to abortion.
Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, the bill’s sponsor, says the bill doesn’t nullify the St. Louis ordinance but rather carves out an exemption for certain organizations.
Charles S. Elbert, a St. Louis employment and labor lawyer who was asked to review the bill and ordinance by the Post-Dispatch, said, “Senate Bill 5 clearly pre-empts a portion of the ordinance, but the question is whether it does fully pre-empt the city ordinance. I don’t think it is entirely clear.”
Elbert points out the St. Louis ordinance specifically exempts religious institutions, including hospitals and schools, from providing coverage for any reproductive health services. If Senate Bill 5 is passed and signed by Greitens, crisis pregnancy centers in St. Louis also would be exempted, but other St. Louis nonreligious employers would still be covered.
And the ordinance itself is fairly weak, lacking strong protections for employees or large penalties for employers.
The Legislature is expected to reconvene the week of July 24.
Read more: St. Louis Post-Dispatch