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Missouri Governor Calls Special Session on Abortion

Republican Gov. Eric Greitens said Wednesday he is calling Missouri lawmakers back to the Capitol to work on abortion policies, including looking at a St. Louis ordinance that bans discrimination based on abortions and pregnancies.

The abortion opponent said he also wants lawmakers to consider new regulations, including annual inspections of clinics, after the GOP-controlled Legislature failed to pass several anti-abortion measures before adjourning last month. Two of those bills were aimed at blocking the ordinance.

While largely symbolic, the St. Louis ordinance bans employers from firing, refusing to hire or disciplining women because they have an abortion, take contraception, use artificial insemination or become pregnant while not married. It also bans such discrimination in housing.

The ordinance was approved in the heavily Democratic city in an effort to pre-empt anti-abortion measures during the regular legislative session. Alderwoman Megan Ellyia Green, who sponsored the ordinance, has said it wasn’t sparked by any specific case or current law.

On Wednesday, Greitens said the ordinance makes St. Louis “an abortion sanctuary city.” He said the special session will begin Monday.

This is the second time Greitens has called lawmakers back since their annual legislative session ended on May 12. A special session can cost as much as $28,000 a week in the Senate and between $50,000 and $100,000 in the House, depending on how many lawmakers attend.

The first special session, which dealt with utility rates for steel and aluminum plants, cost taxpayers more than $66,000. Some legislators had said the governor should only call them back again for urgent matters.

“No greater issue fits the category of extraordinary than the safety of Missourians and the protection of life and the protection of our fundamental rights as Americans,” said Republican Sen. Bob Onder, who represents parts of suburban St. Louis.

Missouri Right to Life and other anti-abortion advocates also lauded Greitens’ decision to call another session. House Speaker Todd Richardson said lawmakers were ready to push the policies.

Missouri Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Webber slammed the governor’s decision as costly and “an unnecessary government intrusion into private sexual and reproductive health decisions.” The American Civil Liberties Union in Missouri said the session amounted to “a call for an attack on women,” sentiments echoed by Planned Parenthood Advocates in Missouri.

The special session also comes in response to a federal judge’s decision in April that invalidated a requirement that Missouri doctors who perform abortions must have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The judge also struck down rules that clinics meet hospital-like standards for outpatient surgery.

Greitens said in a statement Wednesday that the judge’s ruling “weakened our state’s health standards in abortion clinics.” He called for annual inspections and a requirement that clinics have a plan for complications related to abortions, among other regulations.

St. Louis’ ordinance prohibits discrimination based on “reproductive health decisions.” It doesn’t apply to religious organizations such as churches and schools, but there is no exemption for faith-based “crisis pregnancy centers” that counsel women against abortion.

A group of St. Louis Catholics has sued the city, arguing the ordinance could force employers or landlords to act against their religious beliefs.

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