A home for pregnant women, a group of Catholic grade schools, and a for-profit holding company and its owner have come together to sue the city of St. Louis for violating their constitutional rights to freedom of religion and speech, among other federal and state laws. Archbishop Robert Carlson, Thomas More Society Special Counsel Sarah Pitlyk, and Peggy Forrest of Our Lady’s Inn spoke at a press conference on Monday, May 22, to address the lawsuit.
The case, filed on May 22, 2017 by the Thomas More Society asserts that the recently enacted city Ordinance 70459 extends protected class status to any person who advocates or supports abortion – while discriminating against those who seek to promote life or offer pro-life alternatives to abortion.
“The city has taken the protections typically granted to prevent discrimination for ‘race, age, religion, sex or disability’ and applied them to those who have made or expect to make ‘reproductive health decisions,’” explained Sarah Pitlyk, Thomas More Society Special Counsel, “where ‘reproductive health decisions’ is so overbroad as to include any decision that is any way related to contraceptive use or abortion. The law would therefore force nonprofit organizations like Our Lady’s Inn, whose mission is to promote and facilitate abortion alternatives, to hire abortion advocates, despite their opposition to the ministry’s reason for existence.”
Pitlyk noted that the Missouri legislature continues to fund life affirming programs, including $6.46 million for the Alternatives to Abortion program, and has cut support of Planned Parenthood and other agencies that perform or refer for abortions not necessary to save the life of the mother. She stated, “The City of St. Louis, by pushing an abortion agenda, is clearly out of step with the rest of the state.”
Our Lady’s Inn, the Archdiocesan Elementary Schools of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, O’Brien Industrial Holdings, LLC, and Frank Robert O’Brien are seeking judicial review of Ordinance 70459, also known as Board Bill 203 Committee Substitute, because it violates their rights under the U.S. Constitution and various Missouri statutes.
The ordinance, enacted in February, was represented as addressing discrimination in employment, housing and realty against individuals who have had, or were planning to have, abortions. Proponents and sponsors of the ordinance, however, were unable to point to the actual occurrence of any such discrimination in the City of St. Louis. Pitlyk labels it, “a remedy in search of a problem.”
The complaint lists multiple federal constitutional causes of action against the ordinance, including violations of the:
- Free Speech clause of the First Amendment
- Right to Expressive Association under the First Amendment
- Religion clauses of the First Amendment
- Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment
- Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment
City of St. Louis Ordinance 70459 also violates the following Missouri state laws, according to the filing:
- Two laws that prohibit mandating employer-provided insurance coverage for abortion (Mo. Rev. Stat. 191.724 and Mo. Rev. Stat. 376.805)
- Two laws that provide for maternity homes, adoption and pregnancy assistance for low-income women (Mo. Rev. Stat. 188.325 and Mo. Rev. Stat. 135.600)
- The Missouri Religious Freedom Restoration Act (Mo. Rev. Stat. 1.302 and Mo. Rev. Stat. 1.307)
The language of the new law creates protections for anyone who has “made a decision related to abortion,” even when the abortion is not their own, and even includes legal protections for corporations and all business organizations. It forbids any entity, including Christian organizations and individuals whose teachings hold abortion to be a grave sin, from refusing to sell or rent property to individuals or corporate organizations that promote or provide abortions. The law’s limited religious exemptions are vague and undefined and do not cover individuals. The ordinance also purports to compel private businesses to include abortion coverage in their employee health plans, despite sincere objections by company owners—a requirement that has already been held unlawful by the Supreme Court of the United States (Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius et al.) and is also unlawful under Missouri law.
“This ordinance does not exempt individuals with sincere religious, moral or ethical objections to abortion from its requirements in any way,” stated Pitlyk, “and even for qualifying religious organizations, the exemption for employment, housing and realty is extremely limited. That is unconstitutional, and directly violates both federal and state law.” She added: “Ordinance 70459 is unlawful and unenforceable, and we fully expect the court to invalidate it.”
Read the Complaint, Our Lady’s Inn et al. v. The City of St. Louis, filed today by the Thomas More Society in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri Eastern Division here