By Dave Andrusko
It was inevitable, but regrettable nonetheless. Yesterday the San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors became the latest city to target pregnancy centers under the guise of consumer protection. The target this time is First Resort, which operates clinics in San Francisco, Redwood City and Oakland.
The San Francisco Chronicle mirrored the 10-1 vote in its lead sentence which described the initial passage of the ordinance as a move “to reaffirm the city’s support of a women’s right to reproductive choice.” The law would bar pregnancy crisis centers from engaging in “in false or misleading advertising practices.”
The lone dissenter was Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, who said, “There has been no testimony, no documentation, no affidavits of any woman seeking service who has been misled. There is nothing in the record documenting that.” Elsbernd added, “What I hear we are doing today is passing a solution in search of a problem.”
Both today’s Chronicle story and an early one pointed out that the board was skating on thin ice. Reporter Rachel Gordon wrote,
“Similar laws have been shot down by the courts. The city attorney has advised supervisors in private that the city would have to produce a record of false and misleading advertising to mount a strong legal defense. Sponsors produced Yelp reviews, hearsay testimony from a doctor and a statement from a woman who contacted one of the centers.”
And as we have reported many times in National Right to Life News, these laws have been overturned in New York City, Baltimore, and Montgomery County, Maryland. Likewise, a legal challenge has just been initiated against a similar law passed in Austin, Texas.
The statement posted on First Resort’s Webpage eloquently summarizes the situation. CEO Shari Plunkett wrote
The Board of Supervisors knowingly approved an ordinance, which unequally applies the law to regulate and restrict speech by our organization. By doing so the local supervisors have improperly targeted and harmed First Resort and other pregnancy care centers in San Francisco.
First Resort provides all clients with full disclosure on the types of services we provide. The ordinance is vague about what constitutes “untrue and misleading” speech, but has draconian penalties for what the government may view as a violation. The manufactured charges against First Resort aren’t a basis for new, heavy handed legislation.
First Resort rejects in the strongest possible terms any representation that our communications mislead the women we serve. Simply stated, the Board disagrees with the services we provide, and therefore seeks to limit what we say, and how we say it to the women we serve.
It’s hard to believe that an attack on one group of pregnancy resource providers, but not another group with a competing message would garner the support of the Board of Supervisors. It is an unfair and unnecessary and will send a chilling effect to those who value women’s right to choose and free speech.
All that notwithstanding, final approval is expected next week.
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