Lawmakers confused about St. Louis ordinance

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COLUMBIA - Lawmakers who spoke with KOMU 8 News Wednesday about the focus of a special session starting Monday made claims they couldn't back up and, in some cases, aren't true. 

Gov. Eric Greitens called a special session Wednesday to address regulations for abortion clinics in the state. The governor's statement on the special session said in part, "There's a new city law making St. Louis an abortion sanctuary city — where pregnancy care centers can't work the way they're supposed to. Politicians are trying to make it illegal, for example, for pro-life organizations to say that they just want to hire pro-life Missourians."

The ordinance Greitens referred to passed the St. Louis Board of Aldermen in February. It makes it illegal, "For an employer to fail or refuse to hire, to discharge or otherwise to discriminate against any individuals with respect to compensation or the terms, conditions or privileges of employment, because of their reproductive health decisions or pregnancy status."

But lawmakers who spoke to KOMU 8 News Wednesday made claims about the ordinance for which they could not immediately provide evidence. 

Representative Glen Kolkmeyer, R-Odessa, reflected the governor's perspective of St. Louis as a "sanctuary city" for abortions, adding that faith-based pregnancy resource centers in the St. Louis area can't hire the people they want to hire.

"Sanctuary cities like St. Louis say, 'You need to hire people that want to perform abortions in a pro-life facility,'" Kolkmeyer said. "And I think that's wrong."

But when asked to respond to proponents' arguments that the ordinance protects women from discrimination, Kolkmeyer said, "I've never read the ordinance."

He then said, "If that's truly the case, if they have an ordinance that says that pregnancy resource — pro-life pregnancy resource centers in St. Louis required to have pro-abortion activists working there, I have a problem with that."

He added, "I don't follow St. Louis politics."

KOMU 8 News also spoke with Representative Cheri Toalson Reisch, R-Hallsville, who said, "The parts in it that I'm familiar with that I'm reading has to do with, for example if people want to be on the street holding signs, protesting, you know their free speech, being pro-life, that they would not be able to do that. Or to be able to hand pamphlets or to tell women that there are alternatives to abortion out there." 

Those provisions are not in the St. Louis ordinance Reisch was asked about. When asked where in the St. Louis ordinance that was specified, Reisch said, "Um, that's the information I'm reading online."

KOMU 8 News asked Reisch to provide the article in which that information was contained. She could not find the pertinent information. 

Reisch later called to clarify that the claim she made was not necessarily about the St. Louis ordinance. 

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports religious leaders criticized the ordinance, claiming it would force people to act against their beliefs.

The measure passed in St. Louis specifies, "Nothing in this ordinance shall require a religious institution, corporation, association, or society to provide reproductive health benefits of any kind." 

The ordinance goes on to say no religious group would be prohibited from refusing "reproductive health services" on property it owns or leases, refusing to provide or pay for those services for patients, students or employees or refusing to provide health insurance that covers such services. 

The special session Greitens called for Wednesday is likely to focus heavily on the St. Louis ordinance. It will also focus on heightening health regulations for abortion clinics.

Greitens said in a statement Wednesday that abortion clinics should be subject to annual safety inspections. Kolkmeyer supported that idea.

"Our kitchens and restaurants are inspected for bugs," Kolkmeyer said. "Well, I think abortion clinics should be inspected for bugs as well."

The session was set to start Monday, June 12.