NRL News

S.F. Board of Supervisors Pass Ordinance Targeting Women Helping Center, Sent to Mayor for Signature

by | Oct 27, 2011

Shari Plunkett, CEO of "First Resort"

By Dave Andrusko

Just because something is inevitable doesn’t make it any the easier to swallow. On a second reading—and by the same 10-1 vote- the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has passed an ordinance harassing a pregnancy center in the Bay area under the guise of preventing “false or misleading advertising practices.” The ordinance has been sent to Mayor Ed Lee for his signature

The object of the Supervisors wrath is “First Resort,” an Oakland-based pregnancy resource organization that operates medical clinics in the Bay Area. First Resort offers “ultrasound, prenatal care and support for pregnant women before and after pregnancy,” according to Valerie Schmalz ofCatholic San Francisco. “The legislation, which was approved Oct. 18 and again on second reading Oct. 25 , exempts any organization that offers or refers for abortion and only affects those pregnancy resource centers operating as medical clinics.”

As National Right to Life News Today has reported multiple times, the lone dissenter has been Supervisor Sean Elsbernd. At the October 18 meeting, he said, “There has been no testimony, no documentation, no affidavits of any woman seeking service who has been misled. There is nothing in the record documenting that.”

Elsbernd added, “What I hear we are doing today is passing a solution in search of a problem.” He said virtually the same thing October 25. First Resort has not decided whether to appeal.

First Resort CEO Shari Plunkett issued the following statement.

Today, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to approve the final passage of an ordinance that seeks to repress and restrict speech by our organization.


The vote has a chilling effect on how and when we communicate with our clients, and as a result, improperly targets and harms First Resort and other pregnancy care centers in San Francisco.

First Resort provides all clients with full disclosure on the types of services we provide.  The ordinance is vague about what constitutes “untrue or misleading” speech, but has severe penalties for what the government may view as a violation.  First Resort rejects in the strongest possible terms any representation that our communications mislead the women we serve. 

Simply stated, the Board disagrees with the services we provide, and therefore seeks to limit what we say, and how we say it to the women we serve.

The manufactured, unsupported accusations against First Resort aren’t a basis for new, heavy-handed legislation.  We reserve the right to explore any and all legal remedies to protect our constitutional rights.

It’s hard to believe that an attack on one group of pregnancy resource providers, but not another group with a competing message, would garner the support of the Board of Supervisors.  It is an unfair and unnecessary law, and those who value free speech and a woman’s right to choose have lost today to local elected officials’ election year pandering to a national pro-choice women’s organization.

  What seems to have drawn the ire of Supervisor Malia Cohen is that First Resort dared to “use billboards in poor Latino and African-American neighborhoods and pay-per-click Google ads that bring up First Resort’s website in response to the search engine query ‘abortion,’” Schmalz writes.

Similar laws in other cities have been thrown out by judges for being unconstitutional. Last summer, a federal judge in New York struck down a law that would have required such centers to post a notice that they do not provide abortions or have licensed medical staff. In January 2010, a nearly identical law targeted at faith-based pregnancy centers in Baltimore met a similar fate.

Judges have tossed these laws out with dispatch and with a furious denunciation of these attacks on the First Amendment right of free speech. Among many other points these judges have made is, of course, that pro-abortion clinics are not required to post signs saying what they DON’T do.

Moreover these assaults are part of a coordinated attack proudly and unabashedly launched by NARAL. They use as their battering ram what they invariably call “a congressional study” that “revealed that most CPCs are not regulated and often engage in false advertising.” That’s an allusion to a 2006 tract produced for pro-abortion Democrat Rep. Henry Waxman, the ranking minority member at the time, by the minority staffers on the House Committee on Government Reform.

Like First Resort, pro-lifers adamantly denied that they engaged in false advertising. Note also that a key portion of the Waxman “investigative report” was supposedly that CPCs were distributing “medically inaccurate information.” What that means is that pro-lifers are distributing information pro-abortionists don’t agree with.

But pro-lifers stand by the conclusion that “A conservative estimate from the best available data is that 20% to 30% of women who undergo an abortion will experience serious and/or prolonged negative consequences,” according to Priscilla Coleman, Ph.D., who has researched and written extensively on the subject. Likewise there is an abundance of evidence that an induced abortion does increase the chances of a woman having breast cancer.

Let’s hope the law is challenged in court and goes down in flames, as have similar laws in New York City, Baltimore, and Montgomery County, Maryland.

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