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5 Thoughts on the St. Louis 'Abortion Sanctuary City' Mess

Missouri's governor has called a special session to try to override the ordinance. Here's what libertarians need to know.

A doctorPixabay / UnsplashShould municipalities be able to set themselves up as "abortion sanctuary cities," where anyone who has had the procedure or is considering do so is given special legal protections?

St. Louis tried to do just that earlier this year, when the board of aldermen passed an ordinance making it illegal for an employer or housing provider to discriminate against women for their "reproductive choices." The state House responded with a bill to override the local law, but it stalled in the state Senate. Now, Republican Gov. Eric Greitens has called an emergency session, bringing lawmakers back to the capital to try again.

What should libertarians make of this hullaballoo? Below are five points worth considering.

1. The St. Louis ordinance is troubling from a libertarian perspective. Whatever your feelings about the right to terminate a pregnancy, "abortion sanctuary cities" ought to be opposed on libertarian grounds. This law creates a new protected class in the form of women who have gotten an abortion or are thinking about doing so, opening up countless private organizations to the threat of lawsuits. More to the point, it infringes on the associational liberty of individuals and groups by saying that lawmakers' values trump their own. I've written (not once but twice) that religious employees also should not get special legal protections, and for the same reason: In a free country, people have to be allowed to make decisions for themselves about whom to enter into business relationships with, and whom not to—even when they make choices the rest of us don't like.

2. The St. Louis ordinance threatens the existence of crisis pregnancy centers and other pro-life groups. Ask yourself whether the state of Missouri would be a better or a worse place if Our Lady's Inn were driven out of business. The network of maternity homes has for 35 years given support and resources to pregnant women and new mothers who opted not to abort their babies. The St. Louis Review reports:

"The ordinance prevents me from hiring only individuals who support our alternatives to abortion mission," said president and executive director Peggy Forrest. "It also requires Our Lady's Inn to house women who intend to have an abortion. ... This forces us to be complicit in that decision."

Since the ordinance's passage, the agency has had a couple of instances in which women have called inquiring about services, but seemed to have questionable motives, Forrest said.

"The potential is really large, since the passage of this ordinance, 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," Forrest said. "It's insincere and takes up time for women who really are interested in our services.

Pro-choicers often accuse pro-lifers of caring about unborn children to the exclusion of the well-being of their moms. Abortion opponents are denounced for not doing enough to aid women who face difficult circumstances such as poverty, homelessness, lack of health insurance, or abusive relationships. Our Lady's Inn, like scores of crisis pregnancy centers around the country, put their money and their man-hours where their mouths are by offering needed services to women so they won't feel so much pressure to choose abortion. As thanks, St. Louis passed an ordinance that undermines these groups' ability to operate.

3. There is no bright line between discrimination based on a choice and discrimination based on a category of person. Back in January, some liberal fashion designers announced a boycott of incoming first lady Melania Trump, even though they had happily created custom apparel for Michelle Obama. "The Sophie Theallet brand stands against all discrimination and prejudice," one designer explained, and as a result she would be exercising her right not to associate in any way with the new administration.

All of which was well and good, until I pointed out that the same associational rights should be extended to Christian wedding vendors who don't want to be forced to use their crafts to celebrate values they disagree with. Of course, many of the same people who had shared Theallet's letter in solidarity were strongly opposed to that. So they searched for, and found, a convenient excuse for the contradiction: It's fine to discriminate against someone for the choices he or she makes, they said, but wrong to discriminate against people because of "who they are." The reasonable-sounding idea is that certain things (race, sexual orientation, etc.) are outside of our control, and so we shouldn't be punished for them. But choosing to behave like a bigot—or, in this case, to marry one—well, that makes you fair game.

That distinction might have allowed some people to sleep better at night for a while. But as the St. Louis ordinance proves, it doesn't actually hold water. It's hard to think of a more pure example of a "choice" than having an abortion. A whole rhetorical edifice about a woman's right to choose has grown up around the procedure, after all. Yet here we have a law that prohibits people in the city from behaving exactly as those brave fashion designers did, by declining to associate with people who have made a choice they find morally abhorrent. Discrimination is wrong, the left might as well come out and say—except when my side wants to do it.

4. "But it's legal" is no defense. Let's dispense with the silly notion that anything that's legal must also be tolerated. Lots of things are immoral or obnoxious without also being against the law, and most people have no trouble understanding as much when it comes to behavior such as adultery. (It's both wrong to cheat on your spouse and fine to divorce him or her for being unfaithful, but that doesn't mean we should empower men with guns to lock up dalliers for straying beyond their marriage vows.) Yes, Americans have the right under law to get an abortion. They should also have the right to make decisions about whom to associate with based on whatever values are most important to them. Recall that voting for the current occupant of the Oval Office was also perfectly legal. Unless you think the government should be able to compel progressive advocacy groups to hire outspoken Trump supporters, you already agree with me on this.

5. The St. Louis ordinance may be bad, but that doesn't necessarily make the Missouri bill good. Greitens brought state lawmakers back into session today in hopes that they'll find a way to pass House Bill No. 174 (which would pre-empt the abortion sanctuary ordinance) or similar legislation. In a vacuum, such a law would be a big step forward. In reality, there's cause for concern from libertarians. Committed federalists will, for example, dislike that the bill moves decision-making power further away from the people. But here's the bigger problem: The attempt to stop terrible St. Louis–style ordinances in the state has been rolled together with an effort to impose more red tape on abortion providers. Greitens "wants lawmakers to consider new regulations, including annual inspections of clinics," McClatchey reported last week.

Supporters say these regulations are needed to protect women's "health and safety." But there's no doubt the real purpose is to drive many such clinics out of business. Now, I write this as (famously or infamously, depending on your view) the token pro-life libertarian here at Reason. I look hopefully forward to a world where few if any women choose abortion. But if history and economics have taught us anything, it's that top-down prohibition doesn't work. Wrapping abortion providers in onerous regulations merely drives people into even-more-dangerous black markets. If the pro-life movement is going to succeed on this issue, it has to be by winning hearts and minds, not targeting our opponents with the same types of disingenuous legal strictures we're criticizing St. Louis lawmakers for.

Photo Credit: Pexels

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  • hpearce||

    "St. Louis tried to do just that earlier this year, when the board of aldermen passed an ordinance making it illegal for an employer or housing provider to discriminate against women for their "reproductive choices." :

    Most of these laws are actually prohibitions against the association and rules that employer/employee associations may agree to - such as what insurance is chosen by the employee.

    ALL associations are supposedly covered by the concept of freedom of association - including business associations too !
    My guess is the the law/ordinance in question violated freedom of association which should end the argument from a libertarian standpoint.

    Lastly I don't accept the concept of "reproductive rights" as I have yet to see that defined anywhere - the left simply tosses it around as a right - they do that with many programs or social agendas they support - like a right to care.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    the left simply tosses it around as a right - they do that with many programs or social agendas they support

    Anytime I hear left-wingers talk about "rights" I reflexively reach for my wallet.

  • Zeb||

    Reproductive rights are just like other rights. As long as you aren't harming anyone, you can do what you want. Aside from abortion (which I happen to think people have a right to, but I accept that there is significant disagreement on the matter), it seems pretty clear from a libertarian POV that people have the right to interfere with their bodies' reproductive functions (or not) as they see fit.

  • Cloudbuster||

    As long as you aren't harming anyone

    It's impossible to get an abortion without harming anyone.

  • ernieyeball||

    It is impossible to have a miscarriage without harming anyone.

  • No Yards Penalty||

    Notice how nobody bit?
    You're too retarded to hang here. Go back to VOX.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    All of which was well and good, until I pointed out that the same associational rights should be extended to Christian wedding vendors who don't want to be forced to use their crafts to celebrate values they disagree with.

    BREAKING NEWS: Fashion designers aren't deep thinkers. They do know wrong thinkers when the see them.

  • Rhywun||

    "Doctor McDreamy inspects his latest handiwork"?

  • albo||

    Why does the state constitution and its body of statutes allow a municipality to make anti-discrimination laws? Is there no pre-emption already in place?

  • WakaWaka||

    Wow- a Reason article against a 'protected class' status. No 'to be sures' either. What is this 2008?

  • ||

    Point 3 is pretty laughable piece of historical ignorance/cognitive dissonance; There is no bright line between discrimination based on a choice and discrimination based on a category of person. Like the 4th of July advertisement that used images from The Challenger Disaster as patriotic symbolism.

    The kinda foreseeable result of a generation or more of Americans mentally handicapping themselves into being unable to distinguish between individual choices, actions, patterns of behavior, and a states of being.

  • Robert||

    I don't get it about the July 4 ad. Was the idea to compare fireworks to the rocket's blowing up?

  • Robert||

    BTW, this subthread makes me feel mystified like the reception I got at glibertarians.

  • Zeb||

    What are you saying here? That Reason favors the creation of new protected classes? Or just that they are insufficiently vocal about getting rid of the ones already firmly entrenched in law?

  • WakaWaka||

    Are we just going to pretend like the articles cheer leading on federal pee-pee oversight has never appeared in these pages?

  • Robert||

    The right to test urine, or to receive test results?

  • hello.||

    What are you saying here? That Reason favors the creation of new protected classes?

    Where would anybody get an idea like that? Just because they, you know, support the creation of new protected classes, up to and including Nazis?

  • Juice||

    "The Sophie Theallet brand stands against all discrimination and prejudice," one designer explained

    Except when we decide to discriminate based on prejudice.

  • Juice||

    Um, there were several other comments here a minute ago. Where the hell did they go?

  • Juice||

    Er, maybe I was looking at another thread. Derp. Sorry.

  • Tony||

    On the other hand, Republicans' apparently only mission in life is to die knowing they once again made it so that the government can by threat of violence force women to give birth against their will.

  • Philadelphia Collins||

    A brave stance to take. Oh, you've already been born.

  • ||

    On the other hand, Republicans' apparently only mission in life is to die knowing they once again made it so that the government can by threat of violence force women to give birth against their will.

    Sure, Democrats rape them literally and figuratively and Republicans are team evil for playing baby daddy.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Except this story is primarily about Democrats outlawing most practical dissent from their abortion ideology.

  • Tony||

    Don't want an abortion, don't have one.

    Something that happens to be both simple and elegant as a solution to that problem. I make such a good libertarian.

  • WakaWaka||

    Want an abortion- pay for it yourself and don't silence people who disagree.

    Try that, commie

  • Tony||

    Since conservative assholes have forbidden government paying for abortions, that's taken care of. So don't worry, we're still denying poor women basic human needs and dignity as much as we can.

    Nobody's silencing anyone, also.

  • hello.||

    Since conservative assholes have forbidden government paying for abortions, that's taken care of.

    Somebody let Planned Parenthood know - they need to give back about 20 million dollars in grants (and no, that isn't their Medicaid money paying for the mammograms and pap smears that they don't actually provide)

  • Tony||

    You're a rather unpleasant addition to our little family.

  • No Yards Penalty||

    And you're a long-time cunt.

  • damikesc||

    Since conservative assholes have forbidden government paying for abortions

  • damikesc||

    Fucking cut and paste function.

    Tony, a "right" doesn't cost money. If somebody has to pay for it, it is, by definition, not a right.

  • Philadelphia Collins||

    Don't like slavery, don't own slaves.

  • Tony||

    None of the slaves liked slavery, presumably. A zygote is not in the position to like or dislike anything.

  • Philadelphia Collins||

    Still a unique individual with his own DNA. Using the term "zygote" to dehumanized the individual doesn't change their humanity.

  • Tony||

    Using the term "individual" to describe a zygote is at least equally misleading. More so since I said what it is and you said what it isn't in order to game the conversation.

    You treat zygotes like humans with full sets of rights, you must endorse the government forcing women at metaphorical gunpoint to give birth against their will.

    What are you willing to let the federal government force to shove out of your body against your will?

  • Philadelphia Collins||

    DNA establishes that a unique individual exists. When individuals are labeled as something other than human, it makes their mass mistreatment or murder much easier. See; slaves, Jews, Native Americans.
    Please enlighten me. At what point during the procedure does the heart stop beating?

  • Tony||

    Acknowledge my point first: you endorse the federal government forcing women to give birth against their will.

    No weasel words or obfuscation. It's a simple reality of the plan you endorse.

    Because "DNA" is no kind of thing to rely on at all. Each of our cells has DNA in it. Considering the vast social cost (particularly to women) that outlawing abortion has caused and will cause if we do it again, you have to have a pretty fucking airtight argument for why we simply must put fertilized eggs above their needs.

    And you don't get to invoke Jesus since this is America.

  • Philadelphia Collins||

    I endorse that a function of government is to protect individuals from the initiation of force. Ask any convict who has been exonerated by DNA evidence if it isn't important. Ask the 50 million victims of "choice" about the societal cost of being labeled 'not human'.

    Now answer my question. At what point in the procedure does the unborn's heart stop beating?

  • Hank Phillips||

    It stops with the first three words of the 14th Amendment. That's in the Constitution politicians swear to uphold with a hand on the book about a mythical zombie who wrote nothing--a zombie only invented two centuries after casting out maggots, raising cadavers, and a circus trial for which no contemporary record exists. Canada has no superstitious abortion laws. Shall we elect Robert Dear, nuke Toronto and invade as "warriors for the babies"?

  • hello.||

    Considering the vast social cost (particularly to women) that outlawing abortion has caused

    What social costs were those? Too many niggers? According to Margaret Sanger, anyway.

  • Drake||

    LOL. Sanger's irrelevant. Who gives a shit what she thinks? Most people don't even know who the fuck she is; that goes for both sides. It's like these people who bitch about 'America First' and bring up Father Coughlin or the Bund. Nobody cares. Yeah, maybe she was a bitch. So what? Her motives are hers alone. Abortion stands on its own; what Sanger thought or didn't think means jackshit. She's just a sidenote, period. If you think some fucking rape victim impregnated with rapist seed seeking an abortion gives a damn about Margaret Sanger's motives or eugenics or whatever, you're a massive dumbfuck. ;)

  • Azathoth!!||

    Sanger/ Coughlin?

    Why delve into the distant past? Why not Ginsburg?

    "Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don't want to have too many of."

  • damikesc||

    Acknowledge my point first: you endorse the federal government forcing women to give birth against their will.

    Unless they were raped (far less than 5% of abortions), then the woman isn't giving birth against her will. She chose to fuck some guy. C'est la vie.

  • ernieyeball||

    The eggs in a human female are alive and they are human. Male human sperm is alive and it is human. Human life begins before conception.

  • Philadelphia Collins||

    Now, what makes a fertilized egg different?

  • Hank Phillips||

    Conservatives believe life begins at erection.

  • hello.||

    Don't worry Hank, no one has ever confused you for a sentient human being.

  • hello.||

    In fact, it would take a DNA examination to differentiate you from an erection.

  • The Laissez-Ferret||

    At least an erection makes a point.

  • pan fried wylie||

    Tumors have DNA unique from the host, does that make cancer an individual?

  • Philadelphia Collins||

    I did not know that. But seeing that abortion is more dangerous than childbirth, and cancer is still more dangerous, I'm going with don't kill the baby.

  • Robert||

    Sheesh, I never thought Tony & I would be the ones making that point as the important one. Zygotes aren't disappointed by the prospect of death, so they lose nothing in terms of their values by dying. Since all value is subjective, it would be unliberatian to impute survival as a value to them, else you could do the same for any living thing or portion thereof.

  • Philadelphia Collins||

    So, open season on whales, bald eagles, snail darters, any and all endangered species?

  • Cloudbuster||

    Don't want an abortion, don't have one.

    I'm sure the unborn child feels empowered by your instruction.

  • Tony||

    Unborn child is an oxymoron. And get off my lawn, Jesus freak.

  • Philadelphia Collins||

    Don't you fucking love science? Ever hear of a zygote shower?

  • Tony||

    Well that sounds disgusting.

  • No Yards Penalty||

    Tony's into golden showers.

  • Mickey Rat||

    In addition to being a mentally deficient argument (you can say that about all crimes), it does not address what the St. Louis City Council enacted.

  • OldMexican Blankety Blank||

    Re: Tony,

    On the other hand, Republicans' apparently only mission in life is to die knowing they once again made it so that the government can by threat of violence force women to give birth against their will.


    I'm sure there are Republicans who share that dream among themselves.

    Since conservative assholes have forbidden government paying for abortions, that's taken care of.


    Government doesn't pay for anything. It takes from us to give to others, which cannot be construe as "paying".

    So don't worry, we're still denying poor women basic human needs and dignity as much as we can.


    Only in a Marxian mind can the idea exist that not paying to give someone I don't know something she wants is the same as "denying it" to her.

    And only in a Marxian mind can the idea exist that abortion is a human need while at the same time an expression of a woman's freedom. Needs are not optional, by definition. Ergo, abortion is not a need, basic or otherwise.

  • Philadelphia Collins||

    And if the unborn is female, what about her needs?

  • damikesc||

    Most aborted babies are female.

    Most are also black.

    Margaret Sanger's goal has been achieved. Progs are applauding the genocide of black women.

  • Stoic||

    It sounds like the ordinance is specifically targeting pro-life charities/agencies. No one else is going to ask about a woman's history of or interest in abortion before hiring her or providing housing.

  • Crusty Juggler - lamertarian||

    "Abortion city" was my nickname in college.

  • ||

    So you were an ugly, broke guy with poor sense of choosing sex partners? Bad news for you, you don´t grow up out of this, it´s still your nickname.

  • No Yards Penalty||

    I think your link to VOX is broken, Ayuleen.

  • Longtobefree||

    What about the principle of local control? Where is that in Libertarian thought? Isn't the city closer to the people?

    Give everyone a chance to get the boycotts organized, and to cancel conventions and playoffs and all that other stuff.
    No need for the state to jump in and act like the local ordinance could withstand a court challenge.

  • Longtobefree||

    On the other argument; how can an employer tell if an applicant has had an abortion in the past, and is therefore protected?
    The employer cannot ask about health conditions past or present, so is incapable of discrimination on the face of it. Very poorly written law. No chance of survival.

  • ||

    These days, in "sanctuary cities"? Probably the same way the employer can tell if an applicant is a vegan or if they read all the books before wathing the show.

  • OldMexican Blankety Blank||

    Pro-choicers often accuse pro-lifers of caring about unborn children to the exclusion of the well-being of their moms.


    Just like Marxians accuse us free marketers of only caring about money and not "higher things" [i.e. the well-being of Marxians.]

  • ToCa81||

    I used to be pro-choice. After fully realizing the complete insanity of our species, I am now pro-abortion. I could do with a few less angry morons clogging up the streets.

  • Philadelphia Collins||

    Start with yourself. Show us how committed you are.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Saint Louis was a sanctuary city for corn sugar bootleggers during Prohibition too. Fortunately the Pope of Rome didn't order the Stephanies of the time to help the Klan and Methodist White Terror jail brewery owners for decades or prohibit the teaching of Evolution. It sufficed to have enough unthinking human tools to keep condoms and diaphragms illegal in These States. And if girls in trouble died of coathanger infections or hemorrhage, that was the Christian form of population control that, fortunately, even Italy has since outgrown and repealed.

  • hello.||

    Hey look, Hanky the deranged psychopathic liar is fabricating historical fiction again.

    Don't forget about the secret Nazi pope!

  • ||

    Yup, when I was growing up in the 50s and 60s as a Catholic, you never heard railing against abortion. You just lived in total fear of sex and getting pregnant.

    But then after Roe v Wade the GOP realized it had a GREAT ISSUE for organizing ignorant masses - male and female - to vote for them. See details at http://pro-choicelibertarians......otivations

  • hello.||

    Lol. Look, Hanky the deranged psychopath made himself another account to shill the same moonbat shit, complete with the bizarre verbal tics.

    Cool blog, bro. You keep a close eye on them thar GO-Pee Methodist Papist Klansmen, and make sure to avoid any mention of the Democrat Party or the race-based eugenicist foundations of your "movement".

  • Dan S.||

    Huh? The page Carol links to consists of a series of links to well-written articles in major publications. I see little resemblance between her post and the one she was replying to.

  • Drake||

    LOL. hello's gone full retard, there's no reasoning with it.

  • No Yards Penalty||

    Holy Christ is Hank fuckin' nuts or what.

  • hello.||

    I'm sure the party whose last nominee for national office said he would force Jews to serve Nazis cares a whole lot about creating new protected classes and the rights of business operators.

  • Dan S.||

    Do employers ask female applicants directly if they have ever had an abortion? It's not something I would expect to come up in a job interview. And if they don't ask, how would they know?

    But couldn't "reproductive choices" also mean the opposite? If someone has 12 kids, that could potentially affect their job performance, couldn't it? And it is also a "reproductive choice".

  • miketol||

    This law seems to be another big government solution looking for a problem. Medical records are kept quite private; so I don't know how an employer would find out a woman had an abortion.

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