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Supreme Court rejects anti-abortion pregnancy counseling center’s appeal of SF law banning false advertising

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Supreme Court building (Dreamstime/TNS)

Two days after issuing a decision in favor of crisis pregnancy centers, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a San Francisco center’s
appeal in a different case.

In the most recent action, the high court without comment declined to review an appeal in which a center known as First Resort challenged a San Francisco law prohibiting false advertising by such centers.

The denial of the appeal means the final ruling in the case is a decision last year by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upholding the city law.

The law, enacted in 2011, bans false and misleading advertising by crisis pregnancy centers, which are termed “limited service pregnancy centers” in the law. They are defined as centers that provide pregnancy-related services but do not offer abortions or emergency contraception or referrals for such services.

The measure was aimed at centers that advertise they can help women with unintended pregnancies decide what to do next, but do not disclose that they are anti-abortion and don’t provide referrals for abortions.

First Resort, which now operates under the name of Support Circle, claimed in a civil rights lawsuit that the San Francisco law violated its constitutional First Amendment right of free speech.

But the 9th Circuit last year said the law did not violate that right because it regulates only commercial speech and not protected speech about ideas. In 1980, the Supreme Court ruled the First Amendment does not protect false or misleading commercial speech.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, whose office defended the law, said, “This case was about the truth. These groups are entitled to be advocates, but they’re not entitled to break the law.

“False and misleading advertising by these clinics is a deceitful practice that preys on women when they least suspect it,” Herrera said.

In its earlier action this week, the Supreme Court on Tuesday by a 5-4 vote struck down a California law requiring crisis pregnancy centers to post notices informing patients that the state has free and low-cost programs that offer comprehensive family planning services, including contraception, prenatal care and abortion.

One difference between the state law and the San Francisco law is that the now-overturned state law required the posting of a statement, while the city ordinance prohibits false statements.

The San Francisco law allows the city attorney to enforce the measure by seeking a court injunction and fines of $50 to $500 for each violation.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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