Ah, Missouri. My home state. For years, the ultimate purple state, previously described as a “bellwether,” before we decided to color code our partisan leanings. Since the Tea Party revolution of 2010, Missouri has increasingly moved into solid red territory. Barack Obama narrowly lost the state in 2008 (by only 4,000 votes!), but lost it clearly in 2012, and Trump won it by double digits in 2016. Republicans have a huge majority in both houses of the legislature, and they just took back the governor’s mansion in the most recent election. Even before, when milquetoast Democrat Jay Nixon ran the state, all he was able to do was veto some of the most reactionary and irrational bills that arrived at his desk. He provided an important check on GOP inanity, but could do little else.
Now even those days are gone, and the Republicans run the state. The metropolitan areas of Kansas City, St Louis, and Columbia make up a near majority of the state population, and are solidly Democratic, but the Republicans enjoy disproportionate power and representation in the state capitol. They are seemingly on a mission to replicate most of their western neighbors’ mismanagement and transmogrify Missouri into East Kansas.
One such effort has been in the area of women’s rights, specifically their reproductive autonomy.
Senate Bill 5 is a bill advancing through the Missouri legislature, officially concerning restrictions and regulations on abortion. The bill had already been approved by the state Senate, and underwent some tweaks in the House.
There are several parts to this bill, but one aspect in particular has been troubling people who don’t hate women. Specifically, language in SB 5 allows employers to fire women who used birth control and who had received abortions. In addition, housing providers would be allowed to refuse housing to women for those same reasons. The language in the bill is designed to override a St. Louis city ordinance that prohibits employers and housing providers from using a woman’s personal body choices as a reason to discriminate against them.
Let me make this clear.
Punishing women for using birth control and for having made the decision to have an abortion is oppression. It’s state-sanctioned misogyny.
This is not hyperbole or partisan bias. A group of (mostly) men regulating what women are allowed to do with their own body is anti-woman, as well as targeted authoritarianism.
The flimsy justification used for this is a common one – “religious liberty.” But instead of the religious liberty guaranteed by the Constitution – where the government cannot make laws favoring one religion over any others – a different kind of religious liberty seems to be in mind. The freedom to use one’s religious beliefs as a justification to oppress or mistreat others is not one protected by the Constitution, but it appears to be what Missouri Republicans are thinking of with this bill. If a “Christian” knows a prospective tenant in their apartment building has an ortho tri-cyclen prescription for… well, any reason (hint, they aren’t always about birth control), then that landlord could turn her away, even if she has a good rental history and plenty of money. All in the name of “religious freedom.” Remember, this is the state that has legal anti-discrimination protections for people who consume alcohol. Legal protection for women is apparently where the line is drawn.
This bill represents the painful intersection of two enormous problems with Republican leadership in the state of Missouri, as well as nationwide.
One of them is the obsession so many (usually older) straight white cisgender conservative men have with the reproductive systems of women. The other is the hypocrisy of “small government conservatives” lauding the advantages of local control taking precedence over state control, except when it comes to red state governments and blue city governments. Then they can’t dictate how the cities are run fast enough.
With that second point, there has already been a surge of Republicans from rural and suburban Missouri finding themselves very concerned with the inner workings of Kansas City and St. Louis in the last few years. Both of those cities are now required to put their local earnings taxes up for votes every five years, and if repealed, would not be allowed to ever reinstate them. Both Kansas City and St. Louis have had attempts at passing higher minimum wages shot down by the state. Same with stricter gun laws. Republicans rail about federal and state overreach only when it affects their personal ideological beliefs. They have no problem sticking it to the citizens of Democratic-leaning cities, regardless of the harm their policies might cause.
These issues are not simply matters of ideological difference. The bodily autonomy of more than half of population should not be a liberal or conservative issue. Birth control is legal for women to use in the United States. Abortion is also legal (and constitutionally-protected). Allowing discrimination against women for exercising their legal rights (and controlling their own bodies), is unconstitutional and un-American. We need to be better than this. Women face enough challenges in American society as it is. Saddling them with more burdens in Missouri is disgusting and hateful.
Meanwhile, Republican hypocrisy toward notions of local control should be embarrassing to them. It won’t be, because making the base happy, and ensuring re-election, is more important than dignity and honesty.
SB 5 has not yet become law. And, if it does, it could very well be shot down by the courts, who have already ruled against similar laws. The federal government has already overridden these sorts of state laws, and can do so again. However, regardless of the final result, the fact that representatives of Missouri citizens believe it’s necessary to override city laws in order to trample of the rights of women is a travesty. Any member of the Missouri legislature who supports this, supports treating women as something less than men.
Please read this, and let your fellow Missourians know what’s happening in Jefferson City,
The actual wording of the bill can be found here: