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Protected Status for Abortion Supporters? The Ordinance That's Sparking a Lawsuit

05-22-2017
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A number of pro-life plaintiffs are suing St. Louis over a new city ordinance that gives people advocating or supporting abortion special protected class status.

The ordinance also allows for fining or even jailing people who talk about being pro-life as part of their business decisions involving an abortion backer.

The non-profit Thomas More Society filed the lawsuit. Its special counsel, Sarah Pitlyk, noted that when it comes to fines or jail, the ordinance allows for "one or the other or both."

She told CBN News the ordinance is vague on the matter, but "what we think they were trying to go for was a fine of between $250 and $500 for each violation or up to 90 days in jail or both."

So what could get you such a penalty?

"Just for saying 'are you pro-life?' as part of your hiring process for a Catholic school teacher," Pitlyk said.

One of the plaintiffs is Our Lady's Inn, a pro-life shelter and provider for pregnant women who choose not to abort their babies. The ordinance could force it to hire abortion advocates, although they oppose the very reason for the ministry's existence.

Protected Status for Abortion Backers

Pitlyk noted that protected class status usually goes to those facing discrimination because of race, age, religion, sex or disability.
 
"Normal protected classes under non-discrimination laws tend to be based on immutable characteristics or groups that have historically been subject to social opprobrium," not anyone or any entity having made any decision involving abortion or reproductive health, Pitlyk told CBN News.

Pitlyk pointed out, "It's not limited to women.  It's not limited to women who are claiming to or who have done any particular thing.  It's anyone who's made any kind of decision related to any reproductive health technology.  So it's extremely vague.  It's extremely large. It's extremely nebulous."

"The ordinance has several defects – major, major defects," Pitlyk said.

One of those defects: It goes against a spate of Missouri laws that offer protections for pro-life and religious speech and exercise.   

She note that it also violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The ordinance is supposed to solve the problem of abortion-backers facing discrimination in St. Louis, although ordinance supporters couldn't provide any instances of such discrimination in the city.

Backers Collaborated with NARAL

The lawsuit makes this accusation: "Ordinance 70459 was drafted by St. Louis alderpersons in collaboration with the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL)."

Those suing point out that much of the ordinance doesn't just protect individual people favoring or supporting abortion, but corporations and other business organizations that do so.

That's in a state where the Missouri legislature cut support of Planned Parenthood and others who perform abortions or refer for abortions.

The plaintiffs' attorneys say in the lawsuit they have to sue because the ordinance "is causing serious, ongoing hardship to plaintiffs concerning their employment, and housing and realty decisions, as well as concerning what they can say and publish."

The suit goes on to say, "Plaintiffs face a credible threat of prosecution and should not be required to await and undergo an arrest and criminal prosecution as the sole means of seeking relief."

The Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution protects Americans' free speech and religious free exercise.   

The lawsuit argues, "Plaintiffs' belief that abortion is a grave moral wrong constitutes religious free exercise, as does their employment of others with similar beliefs.   These plaintiffs, according to Ordinance 70459, are required to put aside their religious beliefs and practices when it comes to making employment, employee benefits and other human resources decisions."

Ordinance Defies Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby Ruling

The lawsuit explains businesses owned by pro-life plaintiffs "oppose including employee health insurance coverage for abortion and abortifacients as a matter of sincerely held religious belief."  

Pitlyk pointed out, "It requires some businesses but not others that are similarly situated to provide insurance coverage for abortion, contraception and other reproductive health technologies."

But that flies in the face of the 2014 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed Hobby Lobby and other such businesses led by pro-lifers to not cover abortion and abortifacients.

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