In October 2011, San Francisco’s Pregnancy Resource Centers came under fire through a city ordinance restricting what they are allowed to say to potential clients. The law applies to pro-life pregnancy centers who provide medical services, but who choose not to counsel or refer patients for abortions or the morning after pill. The ordinance does not apply to abortion clinics or abortion referral services. It purports to prohibit “false” and “misleading” information or omissions, but leaves a determination of violation and enforcement to the discretion of the City Attorney. A determination of non-compliance could lead to significant fines, injunction, and damages being assessed against the Center.
First Resort, the only Pregnancy Resource Center in San Francisco currently affected by the ordinance, was threatened by the City Attorney for not sufficiently “disclosing” the fact that they do not refer for abortions before the ordinance had even taken effect. Facing this immediate threat to its life-saving work, First Resort brought a challenge to the ordinance based on Free Speech and other concerns.
The City of San Francisco brought a motion to dismiss on all but one claim. The claim the City has not moved to dismiss is the claim for violation of Free Speech under the First Amendment. Counsel for First Resort vigorously defended the City’s motion, and the parties’ positions have been fully briefed. Oral arguments on the motion are set for May 8, 2012, at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in Oakland. The arguments will center on whether the Ordinance violates the constitutional principles of Due Process and Equal Protection, and whether it should be considered preempted by state law.