Wallingford bill aims to block St. Louis abortion ordinance dealing with discrimination
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. - State Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, has introduced legislation aimed at protecting First Amendment rights of alternative-to-abortion services.
If Senate Bill 41 becomes law, the legislation would block efforts in the city of St. Louis to add "reproductive-health decisions," including abortion, to the city's anti-discrimination ordinance, Wallingford said.
He said the proposed St. Louis ordinance could lead to fines and/or jail sentences for religious institutions and other agencies that advocate against abortion or refuse to employ abortion supporters.
The senator said he is concerned anti-abortion groups "could be fined up to $500 or sentenced to 90 days in jail."
He added, "I want to stop that."
But Alison Dreith, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, said allegations of possible fines and jail time are false.
"There is a lot of misinformation out there," said Dreith, whose organization is headquartered in St. Louis.
The group promotes full and equal access to reproductive choices, including preventing unintended pregnancies; choosing safe, legal abortion; and bearing healthy children, Dreith said.
In her testimony before a Senate committee recently, Dreith said crisis-pregnancy centers, which are opposed to abortion, provide inaccurate medical information to pregnant women and in most cases refuse to offer birth-control services.
She said Missouri is the "third-most restrictive state" in terms of regulating abortions. The state already requires a woman to wait 72 hours before having an abortion, she said.
Dreith said Wallingford's bill is unnecessary. Religious institutions already are protected by the First Amendment, and the St. Louis city ordinance would not erode that protection, she said.
Wallingford said his bill has the support of religious and anti-abortion groups.
"My feeling is that it will definitely resonate with Republican legislators in the Capitol," he said.
The Republican majority in the Legislature is "anti-choice," she said.
The effort by St. Louis alderwoman Megan-Ellyia Green to broaden that city's anti-discrimination law to cover abortions has been tried in other states, Wallingford said.
He argued such moves are legally on "very shaky ground."
Wallingford said he opposes local governments "overpowering the constitutional rights of Missourians" and "trying to eliminate First Amendment rights."
Abortion-rights supporters believe in the free-speech rights of their groups, "just not others," Wallingford said.
The Republican senator said, "The attack on religious freedom is across the board."
Broadening the anti-discrimination ordinance in St. Louis would result in abortion supporters filing lawsuits against alternative-to-abortion services, he said. Dreith disputes that claim.
But Wallingford said abortion-rights groups "would like nothing better than to drag agencies into court."
He added, "I am not going to allow that to happen."