WHY SUPPORT CIRCLE OPPOSES THIS ORDINANCE
It’s A False Accusation
There have been zero claims from any Support Circle clients claiming to have been misled by our advertising.
The City was unable to identify even one person who suffered any of the harms that the Ordinance purports to protect against.
Support Circle’s website clearly states that they do not perform or refer for abortion and explains why and how their services are beneficial to those considering abortion. As Supervisor Sean Elsbernd declared in the public hearing:
“There has been no testimony, documentation, no affidavits of any woman, any service, someone seeking service who has been misled. There is nothing in the record documenting that. What I fear we are doing today is passing a solution in search of a problem.”
Support Circle has always upheld the highest standards of integrity and truthfulness with its clients and the public.
It Violates Basic Fairness Under The Law
Support Circle has been maliciously targeted by this legislation for political gain and the Ordinance is unequally applied. It invents a new category called “limited services pregnancy center” and defines that as a pregnancy services center “that does not directly provide or provide referrals to clients for the following services: abortions; or emergency contraception.” This completely exempts centers that provide or refer these services. Support Circle is one of only two organizations in San Francisco that fit in the Ordinance’s newly created category – neither of which was proven to have actually engaged in false advertising.
It Engages in Viewpoint Discrimination
The Ordinance turns the City Attorney’s office into the thought police by granting him the power to issue a letter itemizing the things he deems to be misleading—EVEN BY OMISSION—with a demand to “cure” within 10 days or face fines of $500 per violation. There are no objective parameters for determining what must be included in a given advertisement to avoid being accused of omitting information. Dangerously, the Ordinance relies solely on the subjective opinion of the City Attorney. Herrera declared in a press conference at City Hall that he views the mere presence of Support Circle’s Google ads under the keywords “abortion San Francisco” to be false and misleading. This is a recipe for opinion suppression which is a direct violation of the First Amendment.
It Poses A Threat To All Non-Profits
Historically nonprofits have not been considered commercial organizations. The Ninth Circuit’s recent ruling adopted a sweeping new definition of “commercial speech” that now applies to all nonprofits.
All of Support Circle’s services have always been completely free of charge. Yet the Ninth Circuit labeled Support Circle’s speech to be “commercial.”
The court’s rationale is that an organization has an “economic motive” to advertise, whenever the amount of services provided affects fundraising—even though nothing about the way the organization serves people is commercial. This dangerous reasoning extends the definition of “commercial speech” to the point of “commercializing” the speech of all nonprofit organizations who seek patrons and funds. This means that this kind of city legislation can be used to attack and intimidate any kind of nonprofit… soup kitchens, homeless shelters, nonprofit schools, churches, animal shelters, etc.
This new definition is unprecedented and a threat to nonprofits everywhere. The ordinance is a threat to ALL kinds of non-profits because with the ruling in our case, the Ninth Circuit adopted a sweeping new definition of “commercial speech” that guts the First Amendment and commercializes the speech of all nonprofit organizations.
The new definition essentially deems the speech of a nonprofit to be commercial because it has an economic motive. And it further specifies that there is an economic motive when the amount of services the nonprofit provides could affect its fundraising. This is such a broad definition that literally all nonprofits fit under it.
- The number of bowls of soup served by a soup kitchen could affect its fundraising, therefore its speech is commercial.
- The number of animals an animal shelter rescues could affect its fundraising, therefore its speech is commercial.
- The number of members a union recruits would affect its revenue from dues, therefore its speech attracting new members is commercial.
There Is An Existing False Advertising Law Already In Place
The Ordinance is totally unnecessary. The State has California Business and Professions Code §17500 et seq. already in place. The city Ordinance legislates what is the state’s jurisdiction to enforce. This threatens the sovereignty of the California legislature and the balance of state and local power.