Misleading pregnancy center ads could be blocked by new legislation 

click to enlarge Supervisor Malia Cohen says misleading pregnancy clinic ads could cause delays for women seeking abortions. (Examiner file photo) - SUPERVISOR MALIA COHEN SAYS MISLEADING PREGNANCY CLINIC ADS COULD CAUSE DELAYS FOR WOMEN SEEKING ABORTIONS. (EXAMINER FILE PHOTO)
  • Supervisor Malia Cohen says misleading pregnancy clinic ads could cause delays for women seeking abortions. (Examiner file photo)
  • Supervisor Malia Cohen says misleading pregnancy clinic ads could cause delays for women seeking abortions. (Examiner file photo)

Misleading advertising by pregnancy centers that could jeopardize a woman’s right to choose whether to have an abortion was banned in San Francisco on Tuesday, and it could trigger a legal fight.

The Board of Supervisors passed legislation 10-1 that authorizes the city attorney to take legal action against pregnancy centers that mislead women into thinking they can have abortions there. The law is meant to protect a woman’s right to choose. Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, who questioned its legality, opposed it.

A woman “loses time crucial to the decision whether to terminate a pregnancy” as a result of false advertising, and that could mean it might end up being too late to have an abortion, according to the legislation introduced by Supervisor Malia Cohen.

The bill targets First Resort, which has locations in San Francisco, Redwood City and Oakland. Its advertising includes Google ads that make it one of the top results when users search “abortion San Francisco.” Also, the clinic’s website says it offers “counseling and medical care to women who are making decisions about unplanned pregnancies.”

First Resort said in a statement Tuesday that the legislation unfairly restricts the group’s free speech.

“First Resort rejects in the strongest possible terms any representation that our communications mislead the women we serve,” CEO Shari Plunkett said. “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.”

Supervisor Scott Wiener said the marketing “can mislead a woman.” 

“We are obviously balancing two constitutional rights here,” he said.

Elsbernd said there is no evidence that women are being misled by the two pregnancy centers in The City.

“We’re putting forward a solution to a problem that in San Francisco has not been documented,” he said.

Elsbernd also said the law would not stand up in court.

“Four cities have passed ordinances like this. Three of those cities have seen those tossed, and the fourth is in the middle of litigation right now,” Elsbernd said.

Under the law, the city attorney would notify centers of misleading advertising and give them 10 days to cease the practice before filing a lawsuit. A violation of law comes with a $500 penalty.

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