San Francisco Judge Rules That Crisis Pregnancy Centers Cannot Mislead Women

Crisis Pregnancy Center advertisement

Although so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs) often present themselves as valid alternatives to women’s health clinics, they actually serve as a tool for anti-abortion advocates to talk women out of getting abortions, often using misleading information and conservative propaganda to shame women into making a different choice for their bodies. In San Francisco, however, a judge has confirmed that crisis pregnancy centers will no longer be able to use deceptive advertising to take advantage of vulnerable pregnant women.

After San Francisco city officials proposed an ordinance to crack down on CPCs’ false advertising — for example, signs telling women who are seeking abortions that they can receive counseling, medical care, and emotional support at a crisis pregnancy center — a local CPC sued. The anti-abortion organization First Resort alleged their civil rights were in danger of being violated by the overly vague law, which they claimed might be applied more broadly to restrict more than just their advertisements. Jezebel reports that this week, Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong dismissed the legal challenge to the city’s ordinance, ruling that First Resort should understand exactly what the law is intending to do:

First Resort claimed that statements regulated by the ordinance are not expressly limited to advertising and therefore the ordinance could apply “to virtually any speech made by First Resort, including statements made to its financial supporters for fundraising purposes.”

Armstrong noted that First Resort “ignored” provisions that state the purpose of the ordinance is to prevent false and misleading advertising regarding services and counseling provided or not provided and that any center cited under the ordinance would get a chance to cure the “false, misleading or deceptive advertising.”

The judge ruled that a “person of common intelligence could discern that the conduct proscribed by the ordinance is false and misleading advertising, and not simply any statement made by the limited services pregnancy center.”

San Francisco is not the first city to attempt to prevent CPCs from spreading misinformation, but it is the first to succeed. Laws attempting to regulate CPCs have been struck down in other cities like Baltimore and New York City. And in many parts of the country, crisis pregnancy centers have powerful allies in elected officials. Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) has said he hopes to defund Planned Parenthood clinics in his state and replace them with crisis pregnancy centers that don’t provide the same health services.