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Attempt to Squelch Pregnancy Center Runs into Trouble In San Francisco

by | Sep 28, 2011

By Dave Andrusko

First Resort Pregnancy Center

A San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ committee has passed a bill targeting First Resort, a pro-life pregnancy center, in spite of concerns by two supervisors that there is no documented history to prove First Resort is guilty of “false or misleading advertising.”

Pro-abortion Supervisor Malia Cohen asserts that the legislation “is a consumer-rights issue,” adding, “This has little to do with where people are on the political spectrum.”

But Supervisors John Avalos and Sean Elsbernd, who serve on the board’s Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee, said no record of deception has been demonstrated.

Their concern was no doubt in part a reflection of their briefing by the city attorney. Supervisors “said that in order to mount a strong defense against a likely legal challenge, the city would have to produce a record of false and misleading advertising,” according to the Examiner’s Dan Schreiber.

“The best legislative backers could come up with were reviews on Yelp and a search on Google when people plugged in the phrase ‘abortions in San Francisco’ and Plunkett’s First Resort organization popped up as the second link,” the San Francisco Examiner reported.

“This legislative record here, to me, is empty,” Elsbernd said. Avalos expressed a similar concern.

Alleged violators could face fines up to $500 per violation and civil action by the city.  First Resort, which operates locations in San Francisco, Redwood City, and Oakland, repeatedly denied deception of any stripe. According to the Examiner

“’This law attacks one group of pregnancy resource providers, but not another group with a competing message,’ said Shari Plunkett, CEO of First Resort, a pregnancy counseling center and women’s health clinic that will not perform abortions, nor tell clients where they can get the procedure done.

“She said her organization states that policy to potential clients who ask about abortion over the phone, and again in writing before they see a counselor in person.

“’Our communication is clear, it’s honest and it’s appropriate,’ Plunkett testified before the Board of Supervisors’ City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee hearing on the proposal.”

As we have reported at NRL News Today, similar laws have been struck down—in New York City and Baltimore—while parts of another law in Montgomery County, Maryland have been invalidated. Judges have based their decisions on a ringing defense of the pregnancy centers on First Amendment freedom of speech grounds.

“Supporters of the ordinance can provide no real-world justification for its adoption — they provide only speculation and hyperbole,” Maria Martinez-Mont, a spokeswoman for First Resort, said in an email to the Examiner. “The bill is unnecessary, will put The City at legal risk and is a distraction when so many other pressing issues face San Francisco.”

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