A proposed St. Louis City ordinance affecting reproductive health decisions and pregnancy could have an effect on Catholic small business owners, such as Craig Schlapprizzi and his family.
Calling Board Bill 203 "overly broad," Schlapprizzi, vice president of Schlapprizzi Attorneys at Law, added that "on the most basic level, it's a violation of a person's fundamental right to freedom of religion, and there's no exemption for private business owners."
Founded in St. Louis City by his father in 1981, the firm describes itself as personal injury law firm inspired by Christian family values, according to its website.
On Feb. 1, a St. Louis aldermanic committee passed the bill out of committee. The measure would make pregnancy and reproductive health decisions protected classes. It now goes to the full board for consideration. Alderwoman Megan-Ellyia Green (D-15th Ward) sponsored the bill.
BB203 provides an 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. Alderwoman Marlene Davis (D-19th Ward) proposed an amendment that would provide individual protections, but it was voted down by the committee.
Green offered a committee substitute at the beginning of the hearing, making it a standalone bill. That means it would no longer be part of the city's anti-discrimination law, as originally proposed.
"We feel it doesn't change the spirit of the bill, but rather ensures that we are acting in accordance with state law and federal law," she said. "This bill has never been intended to require churches to provide abortions, to provide health insurance that covers contraception — those types of things that are prohibited by state law. This is simply about fairness."
Davis, however, argued that there are federal laws already in place to protect individuals, "but when we as a local entity choose to try to preempt those federal and state laws, we get in trouble. And that's exactly where we are right now." She later noted that "we can't impose something that is above and/or different from the state or federal law, and we cannot support any ordinance that is going to allow something to be done differently."
Tom Buckley, general counsel for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, told the 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. The archdiocese, which has about 6,500 benefits-eligible employees and half a million Catholics, will take legal action if the bill becomes law, Buckley said.
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 share concerns with the language of the bill.
According to a statement from Archbishop Robert Carlson, the proposal "seeks to make St. Louis a sanctuary city for abortion, an act that kills innocent unborn children. This is not what our city should stand for; rather, St. Louis should be a sanctuary for life and compassion, especially compassion for mothers and their developing children."
The full board is expected to take up the measure in the coming weeks.
St. Louis City Board of Aldermen (including a search for ward by address): www.stlouisreview.com/bEB; or call (314) 622-3287
Archdiocesan Respect Life Apostolate: www.stlrespectlife.org | Facebook: Respect Life Apostolate - St. Louis | twitter: @ProLifeSTL
More on BB203: http://archstl.org/bb203