Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Over San Francisco Crisis Pregnancy Center Ordinance

October 9, 2012 — A San Francisco judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging an ordinance that prohibits crisis pregnancy centers from using advertising that "mislead[s] women contemplating abortion into believing that their facilities offer abortion services and unbiased counseling," the Courthouse News Service reports. The measure applies to limited-services pregnancy centers that do not offer emergency contraception or abortion services or provide referrals to providers that do.

In the ruling, Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong rejected claims by First Resort, a CPC operator, that the ordinance was unconstitutionally vague, a standard that would have applied if a "person of common intelligence" could not discern the law's meaning and could apply it in various ways.

First Resort had argued that the ordinance could be interpreted to apply "to virtually any speech made by First Resort, including statements made to its financial supporters for fundraising purposes." First Resort also raised concerns that omitting information could be considered a violation.

Details of Ruling

Armstrong noted that the ordinance "plainly does not apply to any false or misleading advertising," but rather "specifically pertains" to ads that mislead women into believing that CPCs offer abortion services and unbiased counseling. In addition, "First Resort ignores that the ordinance is specifically directed at 'statements' that are false or misleading," and not omissions, the judge added.

Armstrong also dismissed First Resort's claim that the ordinance was preempted by state law and its argument that penalties assessed under the ordinance could be used against other parties associated with CPCs, such as public relations firms.

However, the judge allowed First Resort to amend its argument about vagueness "out of an abundance of caution," though she said it is "questionable" that the center would be able to satisfy the deficiencies in its case (Marshall, Courthouse News Service, 10/3).