FACT CHECK: Did The Missouri House Pass A Bill Legalizing Abortion Discrimination?


Kush Desai

The Missouri House of Representatives passed a bill last Wednesday that covers regulations on abortion. Numerous media outlets and pro-choice activist groups have criticized the bill for “roll[ing] back” a recent St. Louis “anti-discrimination” ordinance regarding reproduction and abortion. A few days later, NARAL Pro-Choice America sent out a fundraising email with the subject “Use birth control? You’re fired.” claiming that the bill “restore[s] the right to discriminate against women.”

 Verdict: False

A close read of Missouri Senate Bill (SB) 5 and St. Louis Ordinance 70459, which SB 5 allegedly overturns, shows that the narrative of the bill “legaliz[ing] discriminat[ion]” by landlords and employers against women “who use birth control or have an abortion” is false.

Fact Check:

The narrative that SB 5 legalizes discrimination of people for their reproductive choices (e.g. pregnancy status, past abortions, birth control use, etc.) has been advanced by various media outlets and activist groups for nearly two weeks. The bulk of these allegations either provide no evidence on how the bill legalizes discrimination or cite one particular feminist website to support such claims.

On June 7, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens called a “pro-life special session” of the Missouri General Assembly. St. Louis’ abortion anti-discrimination ordinance is “making St. Louis an abortion sanctuary city,” Greitens highlighted, “We’re calling a special session to support the people [of pro-life pregnancy care centers] doing this vital work…”

Almost a week into this special session on June 15, when the Missouri State Senate drafted and passed an earlier version of SB 5, the Kansas City Star reported that the bill would “repeal” the St. Louis Ordinance banning employers and landlords from discriminating against women for their reproductive choices.

Then, on June 19, St. Louis Public Radio similarly reported that SB 5 “would overturn a St. Louis ordinance that protects women from housing and job discrimination.”

That same day, the New York Times cited the Kansas City Star to also claim that SB 5 would “allow employees [sic] and landlords to discriminate against women.”

Also on June 19, the feminist website Feministing cited St. Louis Public Radio to publish an article touting this same allegation. SB 5 would “sanction employment and housing discrimination” and would “overturn a St. Louis ordinance that bans employers and landlords from discriminating against people on the basis of their reproductive health decisions,” Feministing claims.

Additionally, on June 19, the Huffington Post cited Feministing in an article claiming SB 5 “would roll back anti-discrimination protections.”

The next day on June 20, after the Missouri House passed an amended version of SB 5, The Daily Dot published an article also claiming the bill “roll[s] back” employer and landlord discrimination protections. It too cites the Feministing article to support the claim that the alleged “roll back” legalizes “fir[ing] or evict[ing]” people for their reproductive choices.

The activist organization Women’s March then tweeted on June 22 that SB 5 would “legalize discriminating against women.” Their tweet also linked to the Feministing article.

Newsweekthe next day, ran an article claiming SB 5 would “allow employers and landlords to discriminate against women who use birth control or have had abortions.” It also cited the Feministing article in order to qualify these claims.

A couple days later on June 25, NARAL Pro-Choice America sent out its aforementioned awareness and fundraising email with subject “Use birth control? You’re fired.” The email reiterated claims that the SB 5 “restore[s] the right to discriminate against women” based on their reproductive choices in St. Louis.

A close reading of SB 5 and the St. Louis Ordinance it supposedly “overturn[s]” demonstrates that these claims are false.

Ordinance 70459, enacted by the St. Louis Board of Aldermen in February 2017, prohibits “discrimination based on a person’s reproductive health decisions or pregnancy.”

Section Two, Part B of the ordinance prohibits employers from “discharg[ing]” or “fail[ing] or refus[ing] to” hire St. Louis employees for “their reproductive health decisions or pregnancy status.” These protections extend to prohibit “labor organization[s]” and “employment agenc[ies]” from similarly “exclud[ing]” people on basis of their reproductive health decisions. This section additionally prohibits employers from issuing “any statement…express[ing]…any preference [or] limitation” of prospective employees based on their reproductive choices.

Section Two, Part C of the ordinance prohibits “real estate broker[s]” and property-owners to “refuse to sell or rent” property to people on basis of their reproductive health decisions. These protections extend to prohibit discriminatory denial of “access” or “membership” in a “multiple-listing service” and discriminatory “limitation[s]” of “credit or financial assistance” for St. Louis real estate transactions by financial institutions.

SB 5 does not affect any of these protections except as they relate to pregnancy care centers and abortion clinic real estate transactions.

Section A of SB 5 prevents a “political subdivision” of the state of Missouri – such as city or county governments – from “enacting, adopting, maintaining, or enforcing” four primary types of legislation pertaining to abortion.

First, SB 5 preempts any legislation that “adversely affects an alternatives to abortion agency.” Second, the bill preempts laws requiring people to “directly or indirectly participate in abortion” even if it’s  “contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions.” Third, property owners and brokers cannot be legally required under SB 5 to sell or lease property “for the purpose of performing or inducing an abortion” if it’s against their religious or moral convictions. Lastly, SB 5 preempts laws mandating health insurance providers and employers provide health benefits not “required by state law.”

Of these four preemptions, only two overlap with the protections outlined by the St. Louis ordinance: the preemptions relating to alternatives to abortion agencies and real estate transactions.

The St. Louis ordinance prohibits employers from expressing any preference for prospective employees relating to their reproductive choices. As Missouri Governor Greitens has highlighted, the ordinance thus bars pro-life pregnancy care centers from stating a preference that potential employees also have pro-life views.

SB 5 preempts the enactment or enforcement of laws as they pertain to “adversely affect[ing]” the operations of “alternatives to abortion” agencies like these pregnancy care centers. This narrow preemption only affects pro-choice people who seek employment with the St. Louis pregnancy care centers whose pro-life beliefs they oppose; pregnancy care centers under SB 5 can explicitly convey that they are pro-life and prefer pro-life employees.

The St. Louis ordinance also prohibits property owners and real estate agents from discriminating against people in real estate transactions for their reproductive choices. SB 5, on the other hand, strikes down any laws that force property owners to lease or sell property to people or organizations for the specific use of conducting abortions at the property.

SB 5 keeps the St. Louis ordinance’s protections from real estate discrimination intact. The bill only affects people and organizations like abortion clinics trying to lease or purchase land; SB 5 would enable landlords to turn these people and groups away on the religious grounds of not wanting to abet abortion on their property.

Missouri governor Eric Greiten denied accusations that the abortion bill passed by the Missouri House supports discrimination.

St. Louis Alderwoman Megan Green, the sponsor of the St. Louis anti-discrimination ordinance, agrees. The bill “doesn’t actually address our local nondiscrimination ordinance,” Green said to Missourinet.

Alison Dreith, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, concurs with Green, despite NARAL’s anti-SB 5 campaign. “I don’t think it’s [SB 5] preempting the St. Louis ordinance at all,” said Dreith in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Dreith instead believes that claims about the Missouri bill “rolling back” the St. Louis discrimination ordinance is a “rhetoric tool” from conservatives, not liberals, to galvanize pro-life support.

Previous NARAL radio ads, however, criticized Missouri Republicans like Governor Eric Greitens for trying to “pass laws that discriminate against women.”

Greitens criticized the St. Louis anti-discrimination ordinance in February and asserted that “the people of Missouri do not support Abortion Sanctuary Cities.” His campaign website moreover features a page urging supporters to sign a petition to stop “liberal abortion activists” and “fight back against” the “Abortion Sanctuary City movement.”

Part of Greitens’ purpose for calling the Missouri Legislature’s ongoing special session to draft and pass SB 5 was to “defend” Missouri pro-life organizations and charities from “radical politicians.”

Greitens’ press secretary, Parker Briden, denied any charges of the bill having any effect or intent of legalizing discrimination in an interview with TheDCNF.

“The bill is really about protecting pregnancy care centers,” Briden explained, in addition to setting up new “health and safety standards for abortion clinics.”

Greitens has specifically criticized the St. Louis ordinance for prohibiting pro-life pregnancy care centers from hiring only pro-life workers. SB 5’s first preemption, preempting any laws that “adversely affect” pregnancy care centers, overturns such requirements for these organizations.

Briden noted that a federal judge struck down large sections of Missouri state law regulating health and safety standards for abortion clinics back in April. The extensive abortion regulatory provisions outlined in SB 5 are meant to replace the regulatory framework that was struck down, Briden explained.

Dreith criticized these new health and safety regulations as being too burdensome. She characterized the bill’s protections for pregnancy care centers and alternatives to abortion as akin to granting these pro-life organizations “super First Amendment rights.” She also described the bill’s provision granting the Missouri Attorney General original jurisdiction in abortion law cases as “super dangerous.”

Regardless of these criticisms, the claims of SB 5 overturning or repealing St. Louis’ anti-discrimination ordinance to “restore the right to discriminate” that Newsweek, Huffington Post, Kansas City Star, St. Louis Public Radio, Women’s March, NARAL, Feministing, and others have advanced are false.

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