BURDENING FREE SPEECH AT PREGNANCY CENTERS—ANOTHER FIRST FOR SAN FRANCISCO?

On June 4, 2011 the San Francisco Chronicle reported that City Supervisor Malia Cohen is authoring a measure to force pregnancy resource centers to advertise that they do not provide abortions. Although this type of legislation has been passed in a few jurisdictions throughout the country as part of a national campaign by the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), it would be a first for California.

As usual, supporters of the measure claim that pregnancy centers are misleading the public, alleging that dishonest tactics are being used to lure women in and strong-arm them into choosing life. The article quotes City Attorney, Dennis Herrera, who plans to help write the legislation, saying he “think[s] it’s egregious how [the pregnancy centers] mislead the public.” Ms. Cohen is quoted stating, “Legislation is a priority because there are clinics using misleading advertising tactics.” She is working with NARAL Pro-Choice California to develop the legislation, which might mirror laws adopted in Austin, Texas and New York City.

In truth, however, claims that San Francisco Pregnancy Resource Centers (PRCs) mislead their clients are patently false. San Francisco has only two PRCs within its city limits, although there are several more in the greater Bay Area. The largest of the San Francisco clinics, First Resort, is a medical clinic, staffed by paid medical professionals. It has been offering help to women for nearly 25 years and has thousands of satisfied clients to show for it. The clinic has never engaged in misleading advertising or scare tactics. But they do seek to serve women in crisis pregnancies and to give them the resources they need to choose life for their children. The proposed ordinance is not only unnecessary; it would also greatly add to the burden already shouldered by this clinic. Where is the requirement that abortion clinics similarly advertise that they do not provide prenatal care and adoption services?

The New York City ordinance, enacted last March, which is cited as a potential model for San Francisco’s measure, contains onerous measures, including requiring clinics to advertise whether they provide abortion, emergency contraception and prenatal care, and whether a licensed medical provider is on staff. These disclosures must be in writing by signs posted at entrances, waiting rooms, and on all advertisements, as well as stated orally to prospective clients. The ordinance includes sharp penalties for failure to comply. It is currently the subject of litigation as New York City PRCs seek to protect their constitutional right to free speech to present themselves to the public by truthfully identifying the services they provide rather than what they don’t provide.

Given that a similar ordinance in Baltimore, Maryland, was struck down by a federal district court in January 2011, there is hope that New York City’s ordinance will likewise be invalidated—and that any such measure passed in San Francisco would meet a similar fate. Although this type of legislation is an underhanded attack on the free-speech rights of PRCs, it should perhaps also be viewed as an indication of their success in assisting abortion-minded women. Abortion proponents are suddenly seeing it necessary to try to cut out the competition. It presents an opportunity to showcase the incredible work provided by these centers. Further, this type of legislation is certainly not impossible to forestall: attempts to pass similar legislation in Virginia, Oregon, and Washington have all failed. In Virginia the legislature not only rejected the “evidence” of misleading by PRCs, but took the opportunity to pass a resolution honoring PRCs for their outstanding service to women.

Action Items:

LLDF would like to assist San Francisco Area PRCs in convincing the Board of Supervisors to reject this legislation. To that end, LLDF calls on all of its Bay Area supporters—particularly those who live in San Francisco—to do the following:

  1. Inform your friends and neighbors of this potential legislation—using the opportunity to showcase the good work provided by PRCs. Giving women the resources they need to choose life is a positive way to reduce the number of abortions in any given city.
  2. Gather testimonials—if you or a friend has a firsthand experience with the work of a PRC, please consider writing a testimonial; consider also whether you would be willing to testify in person should a public hearing be called on this matter. Testimonials may be sent to LLDF at P.O. Box 2105, Napa, California 94558 — (707) 224-6675, or emailed to: info@lldf.org.
  3. Write letters to the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle—use the opportunity to set the record straight and correct the misconception about PRCs.
  4. Keep an eye on news stories and editorials on this issue, and write thoughtful opinion pieces to the papers in which they appear. Use the opportunity to commend PRCs for their valuable community service.
  5. Send your objections through thoughtful, respectful letters to the City Supervisors, particularly Supervisor Malia Cohen, and City Attorney Dennis Herrera at the following addresses:

Malia Cohen
City Hall, Room 244
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, CA 94102-4689
email: Malia.Cohen@sfgov.org

City Attorney Dennis J. Herrera
Office of the City Attorney
City Hall, Room 234
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, CA 94102-4682
email: cityattorney@sfgov.org

Author: Life Legal

The Life Legal Defense Foundation is a non-profit law firm that specializes in the defense of vulnerable human life, especially life in the womb.