On Tuesday, August 2, 2011, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and City Supervisor Malia Cohen announced that they intend to “take on” pro-life Pregnancy Resource Centers in San Francisco. Supervisor Cohen introduced legislation prohibiting “misleading” tactics by Pregnancy Centers. Without waiting for this new ordinance to be passed Herrera sent a demand letter to one of San Francisco’s two Pregnancy Centers threatening imminent legal action against them for “misleading” women. The Center to which the letter was directed, First Resort, responded by inviting city officials to tour their facility and observe their methods, and by stating unequivocally that they remain in compliance with applicable laws and regulations. (Read here)
The City Attorney’s letter claims that First Resort’s website and print advertisements are confusing and misleading, causing women to think that First Resort offers abortion services or referrals. He cited the fact that First Resort uses the Google search term “abortion” in its targeted advertising. According to Herrera, “[e]ach year thousands of women in the San Francisco Bay Area find themselves facing an unplanned pregnancy.” Choosing to go to First Resort instead of an abortion provider might “interfere with a woman’s time-sensitive and constitutionally protected right to terminate her pregnancy.
The same sentiments about the “threat” to “reproductive choice” caused by Pregnancy Centers were echoed in City Supervisor Cohen’s proposed legislation. The ordinance would prohibit “untrue” and “misleading” statements by Pregnancy Centers, but leaves it largely up to the City Attorney to decide what is or is not “misleading” through enforcement of the measure.
Similar legislation in Baltimore, Maryland and New York City has been struck by Federal courts as unconstitutional violations of the Pregnancy Center’s free speech rights. Statements by San Francisco officials made no attempt to distinguish or deal with the constitutional infirmity inherent in its proposed regulation targeting free speech.
It appears the actions of San Francisco officials are part of the campaign the National Abortion Rights Action League is instigating across the country to eliminate the pro-life message offered by Pregnancy Resource Centers. Earlier this year LLDF contacted centers throughout California offering assistance, and LLDF remains committed to supporting and assisting Pregnancy Resource Centers when legal attacks such as those in San Francisco arise in other cities throughout California. These Centers offer true choice and real hope to thousands of women and their children, and ought to be commended, not condemned.