Catholics Sue St. Louis Over Rule Banning Employers from Discriminating Due to ‘Reproductive Health Decisions’

Lauretta  Brown
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Posted: May 22, 2017 5:30 PM
Catholics Sue St. Louis Over Rule Banning Employers from Discriminating Due to ‘Reproductive Health Decisions’

The Thomas More Society sued the city of St. Louis Monday on behalf of several Catholic organizations who say a recent ordinance banning discrimination based on “reproductive health decisions” violates their constitutional rights to freedom of religion and speech.

The lawsuit claims that the ordinance, enacted in February, adds “a new protected class based not on immutable characteristics or a class of persons historically subject to social opprobrium, but rather on conduct involving willful choice: those who have made or expect to make ‘reproductive health decision[s].’”

Sarah Pitlyk, Thomas More Society Special Counsel, explained in a statement that the term “reproductive health decisions” in the ordinance 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.”

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 the ordinance.

The ordinance was meant to address potential discrimination in employment, housing and realty against individuals who have had, or were planning to have, abortions.

The Thomas More Society points out, however, that supporters of the ordinance were unable to find examples of discrimination for reproductive health decisions in St. Louis, calling the rule, “a remedy in search of a problem.”

They also note that the language of the new law creates protections for anyone who has “made a decision related to abortion,” even when they have not personally had an abortion.

The original sponsor of the ordinance, Ward 15 Alderman Megan Green, told the St. Louis Post Dispatch Monday that the complaint is “a frivolous lawsuit.”

“Since we've passed this, at least one woman has come forward” to initiate a complaint about discrimination for her reproductive choices, Green said. “We know that discrimination does exist. (The ordinance) was done to make sure we are protecting women in making their own medical choices.”

The St. Louis rule is comparable to the D.C. “Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act” which was passed by the District’s council in 2014. The House of Representatives voted to reverse the measure in 2015 due to concerns that it violated the First Amendment rights of pro-life and religious employers. The disapproval measure received a veto threat from the Obama administration, was never taken up in the Senate, and the Non-Discrimination act is now D.C. law.