In a bill introduced to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, city officials have proposed making it illegal for “crisis pregnancy centers” to advertise falsely about the pregnancy-related services they provide. As the New York Times reported, the bill’s author, Malia Cohen, argues that the centers push “anti-abortion propaganda and mistruths on unsuspecting women” who are often unaware of the centers’ religious affiliations and the fact that the centers provide neither abortions nor abortion referrals.
Although California state law already bars deceptive advertising practices, Cohen argues that additional safeguards are needed to protect vulnerable, low-income women in San Fransisco who are drawn into the centers by misrepresentations about the services provided.
The San Francisco City Attorney has already written to a local non-profit, Christian crisis center asking that they correct their ads, clarifying that women cannot obtain abortions or referrals for them from the center. The center, First Resort, denies that its advertisements are misleading and contends it respects a woman’s right to choose.
San Francisco’s efforts to challenge the advertising practices and representations of crisis pregnancy centers which counsel against abortions come just weeks after a similar New York City ordinance was struck down by a federal judge in July on First Amendment grounds. In a statement on First Resort’s website, the center says they welcome a debate on the appropriateness of the bill and “urge [the city] not to test the constitutional boundaries of free speech.”
In San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s view, however, centers like First Resort are designed “to dissuade women from seeking their constitutionally protected rights,” and they should not be allowed to continue publishing ads designed to confuse or mislead consumers.
Picture from The Bay Citizen