In February 2017, St. Louis city council passed Ordinance 70459, a bill protecting women from discrimination based on their reproductive health decisions. This update to the city’s existing anti-discrimination ordinance offered specific protection to women who have had abortions, use contraception, or who are pregnant from being denied employment or housing for those reasons.
St. Louis Alderman Megan Green sponsored the bill because she felt women needed protection at the local level, as the current Republican state government has shown a penchant for restricting women’s reproductive rights. Republican Governor Eric Greitens reportedly stated that the St. Louis ordinance turned the area into “an abortion sanctuary city,” proving Green’s logic frighteningly correct. Not even she could have predicted the run-around state politicians would concoct to stop the city from asserting this law, however.
In response, the Republican-dominated Missouri Senate and House extended their spring sessions into the summer in order to pass SB 5 – a bill intended to impose stricter regulations on abortion providers and add protections for ‘pregnancy centers.’ Passed by the Senate on June 14, it went on to be expanded by the House before they passed it June 20, sending it back to the Senate. They were expected to pass it sometime the next week; however, I have not been able to find confirmation as to whether it passed or not (if you have a link, please send it along!).
Among the several provisions added by the House, there’s this particular gem of a clause:
188.125 4. A political subdivision of this state is preempted from enacting, adopting, maintaining, or enforcing any order, ordinance, rule, regulation, policy, or other similar measure that has the purpose or effect of requiring a person to directly or indirectly participate in abortion if such participation is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of such person.
Thus, if SB 5 passes, the St. Louis ordinance will be null and void, and all other local governments in Missouri will be barred from enacting protections for women to make their own reproductive decisions without fear of retaliation by… just anyone. For all their talk about small-government, the Republicans sure do like to impose their influence from the top down.
At first glance, this clause may not look dangerous; I mean, it sounds like it would really only apply to those in the medical field who may have to actively participate in an abortion, or businesses that abortion clinics may approach for services. However, many religious people – including members of the internationally powerful Catholic Church and members of the politically-powerful Christian fundamentalist movement in the United States – consider using contraception a form of abortion; or, at least, as sinful as having one, stemming from the belief that all sex should be for procreation only.
This leaves open a loophole for discrimination against women using contraception not only by employers and landlords, but anyone who may have to interact with a woman. By employing, housing, or otherwise dealing with or supporting a woman while she’s using contraception, they would be indirectly participating in ongoing, continuous abortions.
Considering the Guttmacher Institute reports that 99% of all sexually active women in the United States have ever used contraception, and that 62% of all women between the ages of 15 and 44 years old currently use some form of it, this law has the potential to impact a significant portion of the Missourian population, directly or indirectly – regardless of their religiosity. According to Guttmacher, 99% of Catholic and Protestant women who have had sex have used a form of contraception, the same overwhelming proportion as the general population.
Planned Parenthood estimated in 2012 that at least 700,000 Missouri women were on birth control. Many of these women were given prescriptions to not (only) avoid pregnancy, but as treatment for a variety of health issues. While some feel those who use hormonal birth control will be exempt from discrimination because they’re not using it to prevent pregnancy, I doubt those looking to express their religious rights as defined above would split such hairs – especially considering the attitudes expressed above are so intertwined with the belief that women are manipulative liars: even if she claims it’s just for endometriosis, you can’t be sure that’s the truth, and since it will prevent pregnancy if she does have sex, better punish her just in case.
And that is what is at the crux of this law and all abortion-restricting laws – the belief that a woman should be punished for having sex, especially sex for the sake of pleasure and not procreation. While Republicans insist the bill is about regulating abortion providers and protecting pro-life pregnancy centres (a whole topic of its own), the wording is vague enough to allow for legal challenges based on the belief that contraception is a form of abortion – especially in the “post-fact” era, where arguments are successfully made that personally-held convictions are just as important as the facts of a case.
SB 5 should be enough to give every Missourian woman pause about how much their state representatives have shown they care about women’s well being.
‘Show-me’ state, indeed.