A litigious city, San Francisco sues and is sued often, and The City That Knows Lawyers could find itself on the defendant side of a courtroom yet again before too long, if the city elects to put the screws on First Resort, a “pregnancy Counseling Women’s Health Clinic” that neither performs nor recommends abortions.
Supervisor Malia Cohen is leading the charge against First Resort, saying that advertisements for its “pregnancy crisis centers” are false and misleading, and has authored legislation — modeled on efforts in four other cities — that would make it clear beyond a doubt to women that First Resort does not offer nor recommend abortions (the clinics, to be fair, state on intake paperwork that they do not perform or recommend abortions, though that fact is less apparent on ads seen in bus shelters or elsewhere).
Yet in its first public appearance, Cohen’s legislation stalled and First Resort won a minor victory — thanks to a pro-choice — and Catholic! — member of the Board of Supervisors, whom First Resort thanked profusely for the effort in an e-mail blast last week.
“The [City Operations and Neighborhood Services] Committee rejected [pro-choice advocacy group] NARAL’s accusations of false and misleading ads by First Resort,” wrote First Resort’s Cindi Michalak in the e-mail blast to First Resort supporters. “We have to thank Supervisor Sean Elsbernd (firstname.lastname@example.org) for his position yesterday.”
Elsbernd, for his part, has not had opportunity to weigh in on the abortion debate in his political career — and nor did he last week, he told the Appeal.
Elsbernd, a lawyer by training, opposed the legislation “on purely legal grounds,” he said — namely, that three out of the four cities which have tried to restrict First Resort have had their laws thrown out on First Amendment grounds, and the fourth — Austin, Texas — has found itself dragged into court for its trouble. So not only would Cohen’s legislation open up San Francisco for more legal headache, First Resort is harmless, Elsbernd says.
“What is the harm, the impact on San Franciscans? There wasn’t a demonstrable evidence of harm,” said Elsbernd, who noted that in a presentation by NARAL, some other crisis pregnancy centers nationwide engaged in “stunning violations, egregious advertising and said miselading things” — but thus far, First Resort has not.
So it was for a “legal stance,” not a personal or religious one, that the Board’s debatably most Catholic member — he sprinkled Chris Daly’s old seat in Chamber with holy water, recall — finds himself in the graces of abortion foes, despite “holding some views that would probably get me in trouble with the Church,” such as supporting gay marriage and “a woman’s right to choose.’
And how profusely was he thanked for his stance?
“I think I got one [message],” Elsbernd said.
The Board is scheduled to vote on the First Resort legislation at its 2 p.m. meeting today.