SAN FRANCISCO, October 1, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors allowed an ordinance to move forward Monday targeting pro-life pregnancy centers, even as two supervisors feared the city could face a free speech lawsuit.

The “False Advertising by Limited Services Pregnancy Centers” is the latest in a string of similar ordinances cropping up in major American cities, in tandem with a nationwide campaign unveiled by NARAL Pro-Choice America this spring to shutter pro-life pregnancy centers in urban areas.

The San Francisco ordinance would make it illegal for “limited services pregnancy centers” to disseminate any advertisement material that is deemed “misleading, by statement or omission.” If officials decide the advertisements contain too little information, the ordinance allows the city to force the center to post a sign “in an area clearly noticeable from the waiting area, examination area, or both” stating whether or not it provides abortion, abortion referrals, or contraception.

Pregnancy centers that break the proposed law could face fines up to $500 per violation, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Shari Plunkett, chief executive officer of local pregnancy counseling center First Resort, said the ordinance that advanced Monday “improperly targets and harms pregnancy help centers in San Francisco.”

The bill’s chief sponsor, Supervisor Malia Cohen, said that it ensures pregnancy centers give women with crisis pregnancies proper information on abortion.

But Supervisors John Avalos and Sean Elsbernd, who serve on the committee, said that the city has not demonstrated “a record of false and misleading advertising” by pregnancy centers such as First Resort, producing only reviews on Yelp and a Google search for “abortions in San Francisco” where First Resort popped up as the second link.

Avalos suggested that evidence of false advertising be collected before a October 4 vote. 

“I would love to be able to support the legislation that would protect a woman’s right to choose,” said Avalos at the Sept. 26 hearing. “I think if you can produce a record of false advertising here in San Francisco, I can support it.”

His colleague Elsbernd shared similar concerns.

“This legislative record here, to me, is empty,” Elsbernd said. “I do not want to see us pursue this.”

Elsbernd noted that similar ordinances in New York and Baltimore have so far not stood up to court challenges.

In Baltimore, U.S. District Judge Marvin J Garbis in January deemed a pregnancy center sign ordinance “unconstitutional.”

The city of Austin, Texas passed a similar ordinance in 2010.

“The unquestioning Board of Supervisors has followed down their path unwilling to table the legislation based on its bias against non-abortion providing centers,” First Resort Communications Director Maria Martinez-Mont told LifeSiteNews.

The bill, she said, “is not just another law prohibiting ‘untrue and misleading’ speech.  If it were, it would be unnecessary because those laws already exist.”

Contact:

San Francisco Board of Supervisors

City Attorney Dennis Herrera