The Archdiocesan Elementary Schools of St. Louis, Our Lady’s Inn, and the private company O’Brien Industrial Holdings, LLC are parties to the lawsuit concerning St. Louis Ordinance 70459, also called Board Bill 203 Committee Substitute. The ordinance, enacted in February, creates a protected status for anyone who has “made a decision related to abortion,” even in cases where the abortion was not their own. The protections apply to corporations and all businesses, not only individuals.
Opponents said the bill would bar any individual or entity, including Christian organizations, from refusing to sell or rent property to individuals or businesses that promote or provide abortions. It could require Catholic schools to hire abortion supporters or potentially be sued.
The lawsuit notes the archdiocesan schools require teachers and employees to sign a statement saying they will not publicly support abortion and will otherwise live in harmony with Catholic teachings in their professional and personal lives. Organizations that require such a statement face criminal fines under the city bill, while individuals who enforce it face a fine and even jail time.
“The passage of this bill is not a milestone of our city’s success. It is, rather, a marker of our city’s embrace of the culture of death,” said Archbishop Carlson.
Pitlyk of the Thomas More Society further criticized the ordinance.
“The City of St. Louis, by pushing an abortion agenda, is clearly out of step with the rest of the state,” she charged. “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’,” she said.
Forrest said that the ordinance would bar Our Lady’s Inn from hiring only individuals who support its mission to provide abortion alternatives.
She said that since the ordinance was passed, her organization has received several suspicious calls that seemed like possible legal traps. She said there is a great possibility “that women either pretending to need services or knowing full well they don't want the services that we provide will engage us just to see if they can catch us in violating the ordinance.”
“It’s insincere and takes up time for women who really are interested in our services,” Forrest added. “We support women who have already made a choice for life. And if that's not the choice they’ve made then our services don’t match them.”
The ordinance would also require businesses to include abortion coverage in employee health care plans, even if owners object. The Thomas More Society said this requirement is unlawful under the 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision involving Hobby Lobby’s challenge to a federal rule mandating coverage of contraceptive drugs, including drugs that can cause abortion.
The Catholic-owned O’Brien Industrial Holdings, LLC, was also part of the Hobby Lobby case.
The St. Louis legal complaint said the ordinance violates other constitutional protections involving free speech, free association, the religion clauses of the First Amendment, due process rights, and equal protection, as well as several state laws.
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Pitlyk also faulted the ordinance’s “extremely limited” religious exemptions for housing and employment, and its lack of exemptions for individuals who have “sincere religious, moral or ethical objections to abortion.”
“That is unconstitutional, and directly violates both federal and state law,” she said.
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson defended the law in a statement, saying, “We don’t believe the ordinance infringes on the rights of the Archdiocese,” according to the Associated Press.
While backers of the ordinance said it aimed to address discrimination against individuals who have had, or were planning to have abortions, they could not find examples of such.
Pitlyk said the ordinance was “a remedy in search of a problem.”