The City of St. Louis’ governing body is called the Board of Aldermen, which is similar to a town council, town board, or city council. It is the governing body that creates and enforces ordinances, or laws, within a city, town, or municipality.
In February of 2017, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen passed Ordinance No. 70459, which is described in its text as “An ordinance to prohibit discrimination based on a person’s reproductive health decisions or pregnancy…” The ordinance made it illegal for landlords or employers to discriminate against any woman for their “reproductive health decisions.” “Reproductive health decisions” are defined in the ordinance as “any decision related to the use or intended use of a particular drug, device, or medical service related to reproductive health, including the use or intended use of contraception or fertility control or the planned or intended initiation or termination of pregnancy.”
In other words, this ordinance prevents women who choose to use birth control or have an abortion from being discriminated against.
First Amendment Lawsuit Filed
Later in 2017, Our Lady’s Inn, a nonprofit organization that houses women who choose not to have abortions; the Archdiocesan Elementary Schools of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, a group of Catholic elementary schools; and O’Brien Industrial Holdings, a privately-owned mining company, filed a lawsuit alleging that the ordinance violated their First Amendment rights.
Our Lady’s Inn alleged in the lawsuit that the ordinance prevented it from practicing its pro-life mission and denying housing to those women who plan to have abortions. The Archdiocese Elementary Schools requires all of its employees to sign a Witness Statement, which explicitly condemns abortion. O’Brien Industrial Holdings is owned and operated by Frank O’Brien, who is a practicing Catholic and claims that requiring him to provide health insurance to his employees that would cover contraceptives and abortions violates his religious freedom.
Ordinance is Partially Overturned
On September 30, 2018, Judge Audrey G. Fleissig of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri ruled that the City of St. Louis could not enforce the ordinance against any of the -plaintiffs as it would force them to violate their “sincerely-held religious beliefs.”
Although all three plaintiffs were victorious, Judge Fleissig did not overturn the ordinance in its entirety. She did rule that the ordinance could be enforced against landlords or employers that “…hold no contrary expressive or religious beliefs.”
Opponents of the city’s ordinance are disappointed at the Judge’s failure to overturn it altogether. They argue the ordinance embraces and encourages abortion. Proponents of the ordinance are also disappointed since essentially any organization claiming to hold religious beliefs can discriminate against women for their reproductive decisions, which is entirely what the ordinance was meant to prevent.