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Protest buffer zone around St. Louis Planned Parenthood fails on aldermen's final day

A volunteer with Coalition for Life St. Louis protests outside Planned Parenthood on Forest Park Avenue.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
A measure that would have limited where protesters like those with the Coalition for Life St. Louis can stand outside Planned Parenthood on Forest Park Avenue failed Monday at the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.

Supporters of additional restrictions on protesters outside of St. Louis’ Planned Parenthood’s facility in the Central West End will have to try again next session.

The measure got nine of the 15 needed votes Monday, the final day of the 2017-2018 session of the Board of Aldermen. That means backers of the restrictions will have to start the process over.

Supporters knew that any vote would be close. They had enough aldermen willing to vote yes to ensure it passed, if all of them showed up. The sponsor, Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia, D-6th Ward, delayed the vote twice in an effort to get enough people there. On the final day of the session, she took a chance and brought it up for consideration.

“Having a conversation, and having a bill not voted to pass out of the Board is not a failure in my mind,” Ingrassia said. “I will also say that in an age where women’s reproductive health rights are increasingly being attacked, I would really encourage my colleagues to trust women, and do the right thing.”

Two of the measures’ initial backers — Alderwoman Tammika Hubbard, D-5th Ward and Alderman Joseph Roddy, D-17th Ward — were not in attendance on Monday. Two aldermen, Jack Coatar, D-7th Ward and Frank Williamson, D-26th Ward, were not in the chamber when the vote was taken around 12:40 p.m., nearly three hours after session began. Coatar said in a tweet he had to leave to attend another meeting.

The measure prevents protesters from getting within eight feet of the driveway at any health care facility, though it’s targeted at protesters at the Planned Parenthood clinic in the Central West End.

Four aldermen who were initially supportive of the measure voted against its final passage, including Brandon Bosley, D-3rd Ward. He said a demonstration in his ward at a store that is the center of drug use and violence showed him that protest sometimes needs to take place in close quarters.

“When we initially began the protest, we just stood out in front of the store and people were still walking in buying items, so it was hard to get the message across,” he said. “We needed to block the entrance so people would notice we were there for a cause. We had to force that information on some individuals.”

People who are passionate about stopping women from having abortions should be able to do the same, he said.

“If they aren’t able to get close enough to the vehicle to stop you, then the people out there kind of don’t get the message across. They do have to scream it across the street,” he said.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis applauded the defeat in a statement.

“We are grateful to the Board of Aldermen for defeating Board Bill 34, and choosing not to restrict the constitutionally protected rights of assembly and free speech on public property. Our work of prayer and presence will continue because we know that women facing difficult or unplanned pregnancies need real options and support, not abortion,” said Karen Nolkemper, the executive director of the Archdiocese’s pro-life office.

Ingrassia said she looks forward to continuing a conversation on “making health care more accessible for women in St. Louis that will continue in the 2018-2019 session,” which starts tomorrow.

Other bills

Aldermen on Monday unanimously sent Mayor Lyda Krewson a bill that puts minority participation requirements into law for the first time.

Krewson and previous mayors have signed executive orders requiring that a certain percentage of work on publicly financed projects, or projects receiving development incentives, go to firms owned by women or individuals of color. The legislation updates those numbers, which vary for different groups, and punishes developers who don’t make an effort to meet the goals.

“There is no perfect piece of legislation,” said Alderman Terry Kennedy, D-18th Ward, who has pushed for Minority Women Business Enterprises laws since 1991. “That means then certainly there are some issues that could be strengthened but is it a good bill? Certainly it is. It’s better to at least try than to say as our elders used to say, I wisha, I coulda, I shoulda.”

Aldermen also sent Krewson a measure that would give subpoena power to the Civilian Oversight Board, which reviews police discipline cases, and approved the second phase of development at the site of the old Federal-Mogul foundry in the Midtown neighborhood.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.