By Rep. Hannah Kelly
July is always a gentle reminder that summer is here—but won’t last forever. These days, that’s actually a reassuring thought for members of the Missouri General Assembly.
Over the past month and a half, the House and Senate have seen a flurry of activity. During two special sessions, we’ve tackled complex problems urgently in need of legislative remedy. Among them, the unconstitutional and harmful provisions found in the City of St. Louis Ordinance 70459, which the city passed in February. Our state legislature is currently debating SB 5, a bill that nullifies the worst aspects of that ordinance.
St. Louis Ordinance 70459 effectively made abortion supporters and providers part of a new “protected class” under the city’s human rights act. That legal designation has traditionally offered a group of people who share a historically stigmatized characteristic, such as a physical disability or a particular ethnicity, protection from discrimination.
Through its ordinance, St. Louis sought a massive expansion of “protected class,” stretching it so far that a group could be protected simply because they shared a personal opinion. Specifically, St. Louis made it illegal for employers and property owners to reject a person’s job or housing application because of their opinions about abortion and contraception.
You may be thinking, “Well, what’s the harm? Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion.”
Exactly, everyone is entitled to their opinion, and that includes Missourians like me who oppose abortion on moral, ethical, and religious grounds. Yet, the ordinance forces pro-life citizens to participate in activities that—directly and indirectly—condone, advocate for, and even facilitate abortion.
For example, under the ordinance, a faith-based pregnancy resource center or maternity home could be forced to hire pro-choice activists as employees. A Christian property owner would have to rent an office to a doctor—even if the doctor planned to perform abortions there.
Over the past six months, supporters have argued that the ordinance was necessary because it would protect women who use contraception or have had (or are planning to have) an abortion from housing and employment discrimination. As a realtor, I can assure you that there are dozens of federal, state, and local rules that already prohibit such discrimination. There are also plenty of employment laws that offer similar protections in the workplace.
These laws are probably why I have been unable to find a single documented case of a woman being denied a job or apartment because she takes birth control – not one case in the City of St. Louis or the entire state of Missouri. What I have found are hundreds of Missourians worried that the government will force them to choose between their conscience and the assistance they provide to pregnant women and their unborn children.
It’s easy to see why ordinance supporters are trying to turn the special session into a debate about discrimination. After all, if we were focused on all of the good that the ordinance supposedly does, we might not have noticed everything it is making us give up.
That list is long, and our freedom is right at the top. The St. Louis ordinance violates at least ten provisions of the federal constitution and our state statutes. Among them, our First Amendment rights to free speech, expressive association, and the free exercise of religion.
The ordinance also asks us to settle for a lopsided public policy debate, a situation in which the government has muzzled one side and given a bullhorn to the other. Pro-choice advocates would literally be able to shout down people who are pro-life at every opportunity, even in the sanctity of their homes and the service-oriented organizations they have helped create. That’s bad for democracy. And to make matters worse, this burden falls disproportionately on people of faith since they are uniquely called to aid the mother in need and the child waiting to be born.
Finally, consider what would happen to a community deprived of pregnancy care centers and all the good, important work they do. Organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL like to point out that the number of abortions is the lowest it’s been since 1973. They attribute the drop to contraception. But it’s also a reflection of the assistance and support that women receive from maternity homes, pregnancy resource centers, and other non-profit agencies that offer an alternative to abortion. These centers are part of a national network of care and compassion that is staffed and run by people who are often called to their work by a deep and abiding faith.
One of those people is Peggy Forrest, the president and executive director of Our Lady’s Inn Maternity Homes, located right in the City of St. Louis. For more than 35 years, Our Lady’s Inn has been a refuge for women who need help with the unique challenges that can accompany an unplanned pregnancy. All told, Our Lady’s Inn has cared for more than 6,000 pregnant women, helping them with their education, employment, and housing as they prepare and care for their child.
The St. Louis ordinance would force Forrest to hire employees that encourage women to have an abortion and offer housing to women who intend to terminate their pregnancies. In addition to infringing upon the beliefs of its current employees and residents, this would run counter to Our Lady’s Inn’s entire mission.
Caring for women means caring for the whole person. Thankfully, if SB 5 passes, it means women will be able to find shelter and support at places like Our Lady’s Inn as they wrestle with the moral, practical, and spiritual questions posed by an unplanned pregnancy. It also means that everyone will have an equal opportunity to express their opinion about abortion, which is good for democracy.
I am proud of Governor Greitens for calling us back to the State Capitol this summer, and I am grateful to be working for the passage of SB 5. It will secure the First Amendment rights of every Missourian. If you ask me, that’s definitely worthy of a special session … and better than any vacation.