Update at 5:20 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 15:
A new law in the City of St. Louis prohibits discrimination based on a person's reproductive decisions or pregnancy.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay signed the bill passed by the St. Louis Board of Aldermen on a 17-10 vote Feb. 10. Several members of the board spoke in opposition, saying it's a solution to a problem that doesn't exist and causes unnecessary divisiveness.
Attention now shifts to the Missouri legislature and House Bill 174. The bill, which deals with free speech rights of alternative-to-abortion agencies, would pre-empt any local government from enacting any law that would require an individual, organization or other entity from directly or indirectly participating in abortion or provide health benefits that are contrary to their religious or moral beliefs.
The Archdiocese of St. Louis was among the opponents of the the city law that makes pregnancy and reproductive decisions protected classes. Alderwoman Megan-Ellyia Green (D-15th Ward) sponsored the bill.
The archdiocese is expected to file a lawsuit. Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, in a statement after the vote, said that the archdiocese and its affiliated agencies will not comply with the bill.
"I am outraged that the City of St. Louis Board of Aldermen has now enshrined into law an ordinance which creates a 'sanctuary' for the despicable practice of abortion," he said. "In other words, the laws of the City of St. Louis now actively protect and promote the killing of unborn children."
The ordinance provides a limited exemption for religious institutions to portions of the bill but doesn't provide protection for individual business owners who object due to religious reasons. Individuals charged under the city's anti-discrimination law, could face a fine of up to $500 and up to 90-days in jail.
After the vote, Alderwoman Carol Howard (D-14th Ward), who cited her Catholic faith, said the bill created discord among its constituencies at a time when unity is needed to tackle other problems. "We need to come together rather than create divisiveness," she said.
Alderwoman Marlene Davis (D-19th Ward), who said she supports keeping abortion legal, made a similar argument during the debate, citing the problems that the bill causes the archdiocese and other religious groups. It "opens a can of worms" that isn't necessary, she said.
Alderman Joseph Vaccaro (D-23rd Ward) proposed sending the bill back to committee for further debate. He said the ordinance could end up in court, and the state legislature "will do something to make it worse." Despite his plea that the bill involves a topic the city should avoid, his motion failed, 14-13.
Alderman Stephen Conway (D-8th Ward) said the bill was proposed now because it's election season. Causing divisions, he said, is one way people have learned to get elected. "We shouldn't be here to divide people any more than we are now," he said.
Alderman Larry Arnowitz (D-12th Ward) said he voted against the bill because he received 26 letters from people in his ward asking to vote against the bill and three postcards from people outside his ward asking him to vote in favor. Howard said residents of her ward also were against the bill.
Davis preferred to see more input on the bill. "It's important to have concessions," she said. "I don't want to see us split any more than we are. There's no need to have Catholic institutions troubled."
She said the city doesn't have the legal standing to overstep state and federal laws.
On Feb. 1, a St. Louis aldermanic committee passed the bill out of committee. Green offered a committee substitute at the beginning of the hearing, making it a standalone bill. Davis proposed an amendment that would provide individual protections, but it was voted down by the committee.
Tom Buckley, general counsel for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, told that committee at a previous hearing that the bill promotes religious persecution and discrimination, adding that it violates the U.S. Constitution and U.S. Supreme Court precedent, and violates state and federal laws. Buckley said said the archdiocese will take legal action against the ordinance.
Other entities, including the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and St. Louis University — the latter which was referenced by aldermen at the Feb. 1 hearing — also shared concerns with the language of the ordinance.
Archbishop Carlson stated that the passage of "this vile bill has been mistakenly heralded as a success for women by misguided organizations like NARAL and Planned Parenthood. 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."
He said he welcomes others to join him in supporting, promoting and protecting children, women, families and life itself. He hopes and prays that the City of St. Louis "will someday soon rediscover the greatness that awaits if we would simply act in the interest of supporting life, in all its forms, from conception until natural death."
Archdiocesan Respect Life Apostolate: www.stlrespectlife.org | Facebook: Respect Life Apostolate - St. Louis | twitter: @ProLifeSTL
More on BB203: http://archstl.org/bb203