Chili's Grill and Bar canceled a national fundraising drive to support the National Autism Association, a not-for-profit group that links vaccinations to autism in some cases.
The Chili's fundraiser would have donated 10% of a table's check Monday to NAA, upon the guest's request, at more than 1,200 participating restaurants.
In an e-mailed statement, Chili's said it would find another way to support families affected by autism.
"While we remain committed to supporting the children and families affected by autism, we are canceling Monday's Give Back Event based on the feedback we heard from our guests," according to a Chili's Facebook page.
While we remain dedicated to giving back, we are canceling the 4/7 Give Back Event based on feedback from our guests. http://t.co/TpBQO8Hr04— Chili's Grill & Bar (@Chilis) April 6, 2014
On its website, the National Autism Association states, "Vaccinations can trigger or exacerbate autism in some, if not many, children, especially those who are genetically predisposed to immune, autoimmune or inflammatory conditions."
However, NAA is not an anti-vaccination organization, said Wendy Fournier, president of the association, in an interview with USA TODAY Network.
"We're not saying vaccines are the cause of autism," Fournier said. "All we're saying on the vaccine issue is, like any other medical decision you make for your family, it should be made with all the information available."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rejects the claim that vaccinations cause autism.
Chili's says it does not take a position on vaccinations.
"The intent of this fundraiser was not to express a view on this matter, but rather to support the families affected by autism," according to Chili's statement.
On Chili's Facebook page and on Twitter, commenters decried Chili's for choosing NAA for the fundraiser.
"Your giving money to an organization that encourages people not to vaccinate based on pseudo science is wrong & can lead to children's needless suffering and possibly even dying," one person wrote on Chili's Facebook page.
"Autism foundations need help, but find a responsible one that is committed to REAL science and really helping people. I won't be there on the 7th," another wrote.
Fournier said she was "really disappointed" about the decision to cancel the fundraiser based on feedback from "a small group of people." She said families would not be getting direct, immediate assistance to help deal with loved ones with autism.
"It scares the hell out of me something like this could happen and could prevent families from getting help they need," Fournier said.
In response to the news of Chili's cancellation of the fundraiser, NAA wrote on its Facebook page, in part: "Though NAA has changed our mission and efforts in recent years to focus on autism safety ... controversial views about vaccines remained on our website. ... We respect their decision and ask everyone to please speak words of love and kindness."