The Missouri legislature took another step toward protecting alternatives to abortion agencies and pre-empting cities from enacting ordinances that infringe upon the religious liberty rights of individuals and organizations.
The Missouri House on March 30 approved HB174, which acknowledges the rights of alternatives-to-abortion agencies, such as pregnancy resource centers and maternity homes, to freely assemble and engage in religious practices or speech without government interference. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Tila Hubrecht (R-Dexter).
It also would prohibit local governments from enacting laws that require individuals, organizations or companies to directly or indirectly support abortion or provide health benefits that are contrary to their religious or moral beliefs. If enacted into law, the bill could impact a new St. Louis ordinance, known as BB203, that Archbishop Robert J. Carlson said forces "city residents to be unwilling participants in the abortion business by requiring business owners and individuals to tacitly approve any 'reproductive health' decisions made by their employees or tenants."
The effort has headed to the Senate, where a similar bill has been proposed. SB41, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Wallingford (R-Cape Girardeau) also includes language that would pre-empt elements of the St. Louis ordinance, which Wallingford said violates the religious liberty rights of individuals and organizations.
"In the Missouri Constitution it says with religious freedom that no human authority can control or interfere with the rights of conscience," Wallingford told the Review in February. "That should have caused this to not even be drafted. I don't see where that could pass muster. It goes against our U.S. Constitution and the state Constitution. This is about a behavior, a decision. This opens up all sorts of problems."
While BB203 seeks to safeguard individuals, it doesn't provide protection for individuals who hold religious beliefs, Wallingford said. "What's the danger in freedom of speech and freedom to assemble?" he asked.
Groups including Missouri Right to Life and the Missouri Catholic Conference hailed the House's passage of HB174. MCC executive director Mike Hoey said in a statement that the national abortion industry is taking on a new strategy of creating "abortion sanctuaries" on a municipal level when their efforts do not receive support at the state and federal levels. He cited examples in New York and California where ordinances have been passed to create "abortion sanctuaries."
"Here in Missouri we are not about to let the abortion industry take the ancient principle of giving sanctuary and twist its meaning into protecting the abortion industry and forcing citizens to aid the abortion industry," Hoey said.
Instead of creating abortion "sanctuaries," Hoey wants to see the state of Missouri become a sanctuary for life. "HB174 is an important step toward making Missouri a sanctuary for life," he said. "We are going to take back this idea of sanctuary and restore it to its original and noble purpose."
HB174 also includes an emergency clause, meaning the bill would be come law immediately upon the governor's signature. Gov. Eric Greitens has used Facebook to communicate his opposition to BB203.
"This bill attacks clinics that help women. 'Alternatives to Abortion' clinics are non-profits that provide women with counsel, support, and resources," he wrote. "What they don't do is advocate for abortion. In our budget, we provided $6 million for these clinics, based on the important work they do to help women.
"We need to send a clear message: the people of Missouri do not support Abortion Sanctuary Cities," he wrote. "We will fight for the vulnerable to get the support they need in tough times — we will proudly stand up for life."
>> Judge blocks longstanding abortion laws
A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction that prohibits enforcement of abortion-related laws in Missouri.
U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs in Kansas City, Mo., on April 4 granted a motion by Planned Parenthood to block longstanding laws requiring abortion doctors to have local hospital privileges and that abortion clinics be licensed as ambulatory surgical centers.
Sachs wrote in a memo, however, that he would give the state time to develop a plan to "avoid collateral and unintended damage to standard medical regulations."
Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated those aspects of abortion regulation in Texas litigation. "Missouri has not complied with that decision," Sachs wrote.
To reach Sachs' memo, see www.stlouisreview.com/baD
RELATED ARTICLE(S):St. Louis aldermanic committee passes Board Bill 203
>> See how they voted
For a roll call of how Missouri House Representatives voted on HB174, visit www.stlouisreview.com/bAq.
To contact your state senator in support of SB41 and HB174, visit www.stlouisreview.com/bW4.