MO SB5 does NOT mean women can be fired or evicted for taking birth control or procuring an abortion

One thing that really grinds my gears is when people completely misstate what a bill or law allows and doesn’t allow. I see it with gun laws, and now it’s with Missouri SB5.

Missouri SB5, also called the “Missouri Omnibus Abortion Bill”, is basically another attempt by an anti-abortion State to see what they can enact that will survive lawsuits in Federal Court. Similar attempts were overturned by the Supreme Court in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, 579 US ___ (2016). So now going on Supreme Court guidance, or likely in complete abeyance of it, Missouri is trying to see what they can do to regulate the few abortion facilities within Missouri out of existence.

But if you google Missouri SB5, you’ll find headlines like these:

  • “Women on Birth Control Could Be Barred from Working If Missouri Lawmakers Get Their Way”
  • “Women who use birth control could be fired in Missouri”
  • “Missouri Votes to Let Employers Fire People Who Use Birth Control”
  • “Missouri Bill Legalizes Discrimination for Birth Control Use”
  • “Missouri Could Soon Allow Employers to Fire Workers for Using Birth Control”

The big problem with these headlines and other articles like them? They all cite each other as sources, and none of them cite the specific provisions of the bill in question granting what they claim! So I went looking to find the bill in question.

The claim is that the bill is intended to preempt a St Louis ordinance along with enacting sweeping new restrictions on abortion clinics and providers in Missouri. But they’re drastically overstating the bill’s provisions. Because it appears people who have no idea how to read a bill are trying to interpret it.

There are two provisions in SB5 relevant to the claims above. First is 188.125(5):

A political subdivision of this state is preempted from enacting, adopting, maintaining, or enforcing any order, ordinance, rule, regulation, policy, or other similar measure requiring a real estate broker, real estate salesperson, real estate broker-salesperson, appraisal firm, appraiser, as such terms are defined in chapter 339, a property owner, or any other person to buy, sell, exchange, purchase, rent, lease, advertise for, or otherwise conduct real estate transactions for, to, or with an abortion facility or for, to, or with a person for the purpose of performing or inducing an abortion not necessary to save the life of the mother, if such requirement is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of such real estate broker, real estate salesperson, real estate broker-salesperson, appraisal firm, appraiser, property owner, or other person.

So what does this mean? That no city in Missouri can enforce an ordinance requiring a realtor to work with someone who wants to set up a facility for performing elective abortions. There isn’t anything in here about a landlord being able to evict tenants who use birth control or procure an abortion.

Next is 188.125(6):

A political subdivision of this state is preempted from enacting, adopting, maintaining, or enforcing any order, ordinance, rule, regulation, policy, or other similar measure requiring an employer, employee, health plan provider, health plan sponsor, health care provider, or any other person to provide coverage for or to participate in a health plan that includes benefits that are not otherwise required by state law.

This provision basically means that cities cannot enact minimum requirements for health insurance that exceeds the minimum requirements provided by State law.

The bill does not do what is claimed. I searched through SB5 and could not find the provisions claimed by the above headlines. And no one claiming the same as the above headlines actually cites the bill itself.

But unfortunately this is just par for the course from the mainstream media, it seems.

Update: On June 29, 2017, Newsweek acknowledged the earlier reporting on Missouri SB5 was erroneous:

Contrary to news reports, a controversial new bill in Missouri does not attempt to allow employers to discriminate against women who used birth control, the governor’s spokesman told Newsweek Thursday.

What [Missouri SB5] would not do is bar women on birth control from working. The impact of the bill was erroneously reported last week by Newsweek, Bustle, the Associated Press and Feministing. The bill was widely misinterpreted to include measures that made reproductive health care decisions a criteria for employers, but focused primarily on abortion providers and alternative agencies.

Newsweek has retracted its June 23 report.

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  • buckwheat

    Thank you for this! I was pretty confused as to the headlines. The reporting just didn’t make any sense.

  • Andy

    As a huge advocate for women’s health who is pro-choice: THANK YOU for this. I read the bill myself and was really confused (after seeing comments on the bill itself from a facebook user). I hate alarmist propaganda, and your point about gun control alarmist reporting is spot on.