SAN FRANCISCO - A clinic that counsels pregnant women not to have abortions sued the City and County of San Francisco over a law that would force them to pay fines if they make "untrue or misleading" statements.
The law, which San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee signed on Nov. 4, is scheduled to take effect next month. Legislators who sponsored the bill hope it will curtail the actions of two pregnancy-crisis centers in San Francisco.
But in a federal complaint, one of those centers says the legislation is an unconstitutional restriction on speech. First Resort calls itself a "state-licensed health clinic that provides free counseling and certain free medical services to women who seek pregnancy-related information and medical care."
"The purpose of the ordinance is to destroy or minimize First Resort's ability to communicate with women who are or may be considering abortion," according to the group's 16-page complaint.
The law would allegedly have a chilling effect on organizations like First Resort "by threatening the imposition of severe fines and penalties for violations of unconstitutionally vague regulations of speech."
Noting that it neither performs abortions nor refers clients to abortion providers, First Resort says it is being singled out for its political views.
Indeed, when city attorney Dennis Herrera, who is named as a defendant in the case, announced plans for the new ordinance this summer, he reportedly called First Resort's tactics "nothing short of egregious."
First Resort says organizations that either perform abortions or refer women to abortion providers are exempt from all the requirements of the law.
"Not only does the ordinance engage in prohibited viewpoint and speaker discrimination by virtue of this exemption, but because numerous vague terms combined with sever fines and penalties, the ordinance also creates a chilling effect on a great deal of speech by pressuring pregnancy services organizations targeted by the ordinance either to self-censor or leave the city of San Francisco altogether," the complaint states.
First Resort said it took issue with the comments Herrera and Supervisor Malia Cohen made in August. The officials' press release said that organizations like First Resort "'push an anti-abortion agenda, anti-abortion rhetoric' and 'push anti-abortion propaganda and mistruths,'" according to the complaint. They also allegedly accused First Resort of employing "manipulative and fear mongering tactics on their visitors to dissuade them from obtaining abortions."
San Francisco claims that the ordinance is aimed only at organizations that engage in "anti-abortion rhetoric" while advertising "non-judgmental abortion services."
First Resort disputes that it fits the bill. Based on the press release, however, "it is apparent San Francisco believes it is impossible for organizations who hold views about abortion that are different than San Francisco's to be 'non-judgmental,' and therefore any advertising by such organizations that does not expressly state that they are 'judgmental' is inherently misleading."
First Resort seeks an injunction against San Francisco, Herrera and the city board of supervisors. It is represented by Stephen Tuggy with Locke Lord in Los Angeles.