Examiner file photoA new San Francisco law would allow The City to take legal action against centers that mislead women into thinking they can get abortions there.

Pregnancy center fights against new San Francisco law

A San Francisco pregnancy center has filed a federal lawsuit claiming that a law allowing The City to take legal action against centers that mislead women into thinking they can get abortions there violates its First Amendment right to free expression.

First Resort Inc., which has clinics in San Francisco, Redwood City and Oakland, doesn’t offer abortions or abortion referrals, although its online advertising includes ads that make it a top search result for “abortion San Francisco.”

The clinic’s website says it offers counseling and medical care to women dealing with unplanned pregnancies. Its self-described mission is to help women “make healthy, well-informed choices in line with their own beliefs and values” and “in a supportive, nonpressured environment.”

Critics have said First Resort and other so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” covertly espouse an anti-abortion agenda.

First Resort CEO Shari Plunkett said in a statement that San Francisco’s law unfairly targets her company and another in The City, Alpha Pregnancy Center.

“By design, it would regulate and restrict speech only by persons or organizations The City regards as having anti-abortion or pro-life views, exempting the rest,” Plunkett said.

Carol Hogan, a California Catholic Conference spokesperson, in the same statement criticized the Board of Supervisors for “an abortion-on-demand mentality.”

The challenge to San Francisco’s law is not without precedent.  Similar laws have already been struck down in New York City and Baltimore. San Francisco officials have contended that this city’s law would not infringe on free speech rights because it doesn’t tell the pregnancy centers what to say, it only prevents deceptive advertising.

The law, championed by Supervisor Malia Cohen, says that a woman “loses time crucial to the decision whether to terminate a pregnancy” as a result of false advertising, which could result in it being too late to have an abortion.

Cohen said in a statement Thursday that the legislation, passed almost unanimously by the board, “was carefully crafted to balance the free speech rights of all parties and the reproductive rights of women as consumers of pregnancy services. Counter to what many have stated, this legislation does not limit or prescribe what views groups or individuals may express on this issue, rather it prevents groups from knowingly engaging in false or misleading advertising about the pregnancy-related services they offer.”

aburack@sfexaminer.com

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