Tuesday, September 27, 2011

SF Crisis Pregnancy Centers: "False & Misleading Advertising" Not Demonstrated

Today the City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors heard testimony about the proposed law that would "prohibit pregnancy centers from engaging in false or misleading advertising practices."

The legislation was introduced by Supervsor Malia Cohen and City Attorney Dennis Herrera. We had posted on this story back on August 2 & 3, where we wrote:

"The real purpose of the proposed ordinance is twofold: first, to harass the crisis pregnancy centers at public expense. That's because they threaten the Democrats' sacred cow, Planned Parenthood. It's just a fact that every baby born represents a financial loss for Planned Parenthood, and centers such as First Resort and Alpha Pregnancy help babies to be born and raised. Secondly, Dennis Herrera is running for mayor, and he thinks this will help his campaign."

Today, the San Francisco Chronicle reports:

"Two San Francisco supervisors, concerned over First Amendment issues, were hesitant about moving forward with a proposed law that would prohibit pregnancy centers from engaging in false or misleading advertising practices.

Centers that break the the law could face civil action by the city and fines up to $500 per violation.

The legislation takes aim at pregnancy centers that oppose abortion. The concern is that women with unplanned pregnancies are tricked into thinking that certain pregnancy centers will give them information on all of their options, including abortion, when that’s not the case.
“This legislation has been carefully crafted to ensure a balance between protecting the most vulnerable members of our communities and protecting the constitutional rights of everyone,” said Supervisor Malia Cohen, chief sponsor of the legislation, which has the backing of pro-choice advocates.

But opponents said if the legislation is approved, it would put the city at legal risk of trampling on the First Amendment.

“This law attacks one group of pregnancy resource providers, but not another group with a competing message,” said Shari Plunkett, CEO of First Resort, a pregnancy counseling center and women’s health clinic that will not perform abortions, nor tell clients where they can get the procedure done....

Supervisors, after being briefed by the city attorney, said that in order to mount a strong defense against a likely legal challenge, the city would have to produce a record of false and misleading advertising.

Imagine that--the city should have to prove what it says. But as we said, this is a "nuisance lawsuit" designed to harass crisis pregnancy centers at public expense. But as both Supervisor Avalos and Elsbernd, noted you gotta have at least some kind of a case.

But both Supervisors John Avalos and Sean Elsbernd, who serve on the committee, said such a record wasn’t demonstrated. The best legislative backers could come up with were reviews on Yelp and a search on Google when people plugged in the phrase “abortions in San Francisco” and Plunkett’s First Resort organization popped up as the second link.

“This legislative record here, to me, is empty,” Elsbernd said.

Avalos expressed a similar concern. The committee sent the legislation on to the full board without recommendation for consideration next week, with Avalos suggesting that evidence of false advertising be collected before that vote.

Posted by Gibbons J. Cooney

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