When it comes to legalities, San Francisco is an odd place. First, there was the bizarre, but now defunct, proposed circumcision ban. Now, some of the city’s leaders want to institute a crack-down on crisis pregnancy centers, which they contend are assaulting “women’s reproductive rights.”
San Francisco leaders are coming together to strategically clamp down on what they are calling “one of the most serious threats to reproductive rights today.” This dramatic call sounds like it is more suited to describe a rampantly-spreading disease than is crisis pregnancy centers, which generally counsel woman against having abortions. The Bay Citizen has more:
In a joint press conference with Supervisor Malia Cohen, City Attorney Dennis Herrera said the “right-wing, politically motivated centers” use false advertisements to target vulnerable populations and can cost women valuable time as they decide whether or not to end a pregnancy…
The two officials both took action against the centers Tuesday: Cohen introduced legislation that would prohibit centers from making misleading statements about the services they provide, while Herrera took the first step toward legal action against a center he accused of doing just that.
San Francisco isn’t the first city grappling with these proposed restrictions. New York City, Baltimore and Austin all passed laws that prevent similar acts of “false advertising.” But, in New York and Baltimore, free-speech lawsuits have resulted and a New York judge blocked the state’s law last month (abortion proponents in New York are appealing the decision).
Cohen’s bill is entitled, the “Pregnancy Information Disclosure and Protection Ordinance.” The proposal would give these crisis pregnancy centers 10 days to correct misleading advertisements. If they choose not to, they would then be fined or given a court order requiring them to make necessary changes. Of course, this causes one to question who gets to define what qualifies as “misleading.”
For instance, consider the example that Herrera gave to illustrate the alleged false advertising. The Bay Citizen covers his description of the problem with groups like First Resort (a clinic he has taken particular issue with):
When women search for terms like “abortion” and “San Francisco,” a Google ad sponsored by First Resort appears, even though the organization does not provide abortions or referrals for them, Herrera said.
His argument here is very literally based on a keyword search. While First Resort doesn’t provide abortions, per se, it does provide advice to women who may be seeking them. Regardless of what actions the clinic takes — or doesn’t take, for that matter — the word is still applicable to their mission and values.
In a letter to the organization, Herrera asked the First Resort to change its advertisements and web site by the end of August. Considering the examples the city attorney has given, one wonders where this false advertising is being perpetuated. On the group’s web site, the image (see above) can be seen prominently in the middle of the page. Here, a woman who chose to end her pregnancy is quoted, as are others — one who chose not to do so and another who was undecided. In a statement published on the organization’s web site, CEO Shari Plunkett said:
First Resort rejects in the strongest possible terms any representation that our advertising misleads women. We treat women with dignity and respect their right to choose. We welcome both Supervisor Cohen and City Attorney Herrera to tour our facilities and educate themselves about the services we provide.
We look forward to a robust discussion about the appropriateness of this legislation and urge them not to test the constitutional boundaries of free speech.
Pajamas Media’s Zombie reinforces the somewhat bizarre accusations from San Francisco officials:
If you scour First Resort’s Web site, nowhere do they claim that they provide abortions, or even advocate for abortions. In fact, quite the opposite: they use various code words like “values” and “adoption” which make it pretty clear they’re coming from a “keep the baby” perspective in their counseling…
So, based on basically no evidence whatsoever, the city of San Francisco is planning to sue a counseling center for false advertising, even though their advertisements are not false.
Yet, despite these revelations, The Los Angeles Times provides a quote in which the city’s attorney says, “First Resort is certainly entitled to advocate for ‘an abortion-free world’ to anyone who wants to hear it, but the center is breaking the law by misrepresenting itself as an abortion provider for the purpose of luring women with unwanted pregnancies into its office.” Breaking the law? But, with what evidence?
This bill is sure to inspire intense debate. Certainly, organizations should be honest about their intentions. But, considering the lack of false advertising evidence thus far, one can’t help but wonder: Are some in the San Francisco government targeting faith-based crisis pregnancy centers simply because of their opposition to abortion? While this may be an unfair assessment, stranger things have been known to happen.