Cohen, Herrera take on S.F. 'crisis pregnancy centers' for deceptive marketing tactics
Proposed ordinance, City Attorney demand letter target misleading advertising by centers that push hidden agenda for 'abortion free world'
SAN FRANCISCO (Aug. 2, 2011) -- Supervisor Malia Cohen and City Attorney Dennis Herrera today announced joint legal and legislative steps to halt deceptive marketing by so-called "crisis pregnancy centers" in San Francisco, which purport to offer non-judgmental abortion services and counseling to women with unwanted pregnancies, but that instead push an anti-abortion agenda on those seeking constitutionally protected medical services. Cohen and Herrera announced their initiatives at a City Hall press conference this morning.
Cohen's legislation, which she will introduce at today's Board of Supervisors meeting, is entitled the "Pregnancy Information Disclosure and Protection Ordinance." If enacted, Cohen's measure would explicitly prohibit limited services pregnancy centers in San Francisco from making false or misleading statements to the public about pregnancy-related services that the centers offer. While some crisis pregnancy centers openly acknowledge their pro-life advocacy, many misleadingly target women in search of abortion services though false advertising -- and then employ manipulative and fear mongering tactics on their visitors to dissuade them from obtaining abortions. Crisis pregnancy centers commonly offer few services other than anti-abortion rhetoric, but the proliferation of Internet search engines has given anti-abortion centers an effective way to misrepresent themselves as bona fide clinics, offering prominent paid links in response to search queries for "abortion" and related terms within their region.
"One of the most serious threats to reproductive rights today comes from so-called 'crisis pregnancy centers,' which misrepresent themselves as non-political medical providers, but that push anti-abortion propaganda and mistruths on unsuspecting women," said Cohen. "The legislation that will be introduced today would prohibit these limited services pregnancy centers in San Francisco from misleading the public about the services they perform. It's a measured, thoughtful approach that balances the free speech rights of anti-abortion activists with constitutionally protected reproductive rights for women. I appreciate City Attorney Dennis Herrera's office working with me to craft a policy to protect women in San Francisco, while minimizing possible legal risks."
In tandem with Cohen's legislation, Herrera took a first step today toward a possible legal action under California law against San Francisco's most egregiously misleading crisis pregnancy center, First Resort, Inc. Herrera's demand letter to the anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center in the medical building at 450 Sutter Street expressed serious concerns about the veracity of the center's print advertising and Internet marketing, which imply to prospective clients that First Resort offers abortion services or referrals to abortion providers -- when it in fact does neither.
Herrera's letter notes that First Resort has purchased paid Google advertisements to secure top placement in search results for abortion providers in San Francisco. Moreover, the letter details several of First Resort's public representations to prospective clients that are false and misleading, and which contrast starkly with the organization's stated purpose -- as revealed in its state licensing documents -- to achieve "an abortion-free world."
"First Resort is certainly entitled to advocate for 'an abortion-free world' to anyone who wants to hear it, but the center is breaking the law by misrepresenting itself as an abortion provider for the purpose of luring women with unwanted pregnancies to its office," Herrera said. "This is an insidious practice that victimizes women who are, in some instances, already victims. It's especially problematic because the delays these centers can cause interfere with women's time-sensitive, constitutionally protected right to reproductive choice. I've taken this step to demand that First Resort clarify its purpose in accordance with state law. Moreover, I applaud Supervisor Malia Cohen for her leadership to further tighten restrictions on this unethical practice here in San Francisco."
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