San Francisco leaders are launching a coordinated attack against what they call "one of the most serious threats to reproductive rights today" — so-called crisis pregnancy centers that advertise as though they provide abortions, but counsel against them.
In a joint press conference with Supervisor Malia Cohen, City Attorney Dennis Herrera said the "right-wing, politically motivated centers" use false advertisements to target vulnerable populations and can cost women valuable time as they decide whether or not to end a pregnancy.
"Women's reproductive rights are under assault," Herrera said.
The two officials both took action against the centers Tuesday: Cohen introduced legislation that would prohibit centers from making misleading statements about the services they provide, while Herrera took the first step toward legal action against a center he accused of doing just that.
New York City, Baltimore and Austin have passed laws barring such advertising. New York and Baltimore's measures have drawn lawsuits based on free speech arguments, and a judge last month blocked the New York law. New York City officials have appealed that decision.
Cohen says her legislation, the Pregnancy Information Disclosure and Protection Ordinance, is narrow enough to avoid similar legal challenges.
A group of people opposing abortion showed up at Tuesday's press conference to question the ordinance and learn more about it.
One of them was Chastidy Ronan, who directs the Alpha Pregnancy Center, an organization in San Francisco that provides Bible-based counseling for pregnant women. She said she didn't hear anything at the press conference that would put her center at risk, adding that the organization's policy is to be upfront about the nature of its services.
Cohen's bill, which was co-sponsored by supervisors David Chiu, Jane Kim and Scott Wiener, would give centers that use misleading advertisements 10 days to correct the problem. After that, the organizations would either be fined or given a court order requiring them to comply.
Also on Tuesday, Herrera sent a letter to First Resort, a San Francisco center whose advertising he described as "particularly egregious."
When women search for terms like "abortion" and "San Francisco," a Google ad sponsored by First Resort appears, even though the organization does not provide abortions or referrals for them, Herrera said.
The letter asks First Resort to change its advertisements and website by the end of August to clarify that it does not provide abortion services.
First Resort's CEO, Shari Plunkett, issued a statement denying that her organization's advertising misleads women.
"We treat women with dignity and respect and respect their right to choose," she said. "We look forward to a robust discussion about the appropriateness of this legislation and urge [Cohen and Herrera] not to test the constitutional boundaries of free speech."