A St. Louis city ordinance that could force Catholic schools and pro-life pregnancy centers to hire employees who support abortion has drawn legal opposition from the Archbishop of St. Louis and several pro-life organizations.
“As Catholics, we know that all life is a gift from God and our parents, and must be protected at any cost," St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson said May 22. “Sadly, legal protection for those members of the human family waiting to be born in this country was removed by the Supreme Court in 1973."
“Now, some of our St. Louis politicians have made a protected ‘class’ out of ‘reproductive health,’ which is merely a politically correct euphemism for abortion," the archbishop said at a press conference on the steps of the federal courthouse in downtown St. Louis.
He said the archdiocese will not comply with the “vile bill."
Archbishop Carlson was joined by Peggy Forrest of Our Lady’s Inn, which promotes abortion alternatives for pregnant women, archdiocesan newspaper the St. Louis Review reports. Also present was Sarah Pitlyk, special counsel for the Thomas More Society, which has filed the lawsuit seeking judicial review.
The Archdiocesan Elementary Schools of St. Louis, Our Lady’s Inn, and the private company O’Brien Industrial Holdings, LLC are parties to the lawsuit concerning St. Louis Ordinance 70459, also called Board Bill 203 Committee Substitute. The ordinance, enacted in February, creates a protected status for anyone who has “made a decision related to abortion," even in cases where the abortion was not their own. The protections apply to corporations and all businesses, not only individuals.
Opponents said the bill would bar any individual or entity, including Christian organizations, from refusing to sell or rent property to individuals or businesses that promote or provide abortions. It could require Catholic schools to hire abortion supporters or potentially be sued.
The lawsuit notes the archdiocesan schools require teachers and employees to sign a statement saying they will not publicly support abortion and will otherwise live in harmony with Catholic teachings in their professional and personal lives. Organizations that require such a statement face criminal fines under the city bill, while individuals who enforce it face a fine and even jail time.
“The passage of this bill is not a milestone of our city’s success. It is, rather, a marker of our city’s embrace of the culture of death," said Archbishop Carlson.
Pitlyk of the Thomas More Society further criticized the ordinance.
“The City of St. Louis, by pushing an abortion agenda, is clearly out of step with the rest of the state," she charged. “The city has taken the protections typically granted to prevent discrimination for ‘race, age, religion, sex or disability’ and applied them to those who have made or expect to make ‘reproductive health decisions’," she said.
Forrest said that the ordinance would bar Our Lady’s Inn from hiring only individuals who support its mission to provide abortion alternatives.
She said that since the ordinance was passed, her organization has received several suspicious calls that seemed like possible legal traps. She said there is a great possibility “that women either pretending to need services or knowing full well they don’t want the services that we provide will engage us just to see if they can catch us in violating the ordinance."
“It’s insincere and takes up time for women who really are interested in our services," Forrest added. “We support women who have already made a choice for life. And if that’s not the choice they’ve made then our services don’t match them."
The ordinance would also require businesses to include abortion coverage in employee health care plans, even if owners object. The Thomas More Society said this requirement is unlawful under the 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision involving Hobby Lobby’s challenge to a federal rule mandating coverage of contraceptive drugs, including drugs that can cause abortion.
The Catholic-owned O’Brien Industrial Holdings, LLC, was also part of the Hobby Lobby case.
The St. Louis legal complaint said the ordinance violates other constitutional protections involving free speech, free association, the religion clauses of the First Amendment, due process rights, and equal protection, as well as several state laws.
Pitlyk also faulted the ordinance’s “extremely limited" religious exemptions for housing and employment, and its lack of exemptions for individuals who have “sincere religious, moral or ethical objections to abortion."
“That is unconstitutional, and directly violates both federal and state law," she said.
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson defended the law in a statement, saying, “We don’t believe the ordinance infringes on the rights of the Archdiocese," according to the Associated Press.
While backers of the ordinance said it aimed to address discrimination against individuals who have had, or were planning to have abortions, they could not find examples of such.
Pitlyk said the ordinance was “a remedy in search of a problem."