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Where did the "Choose Life" slogan come from?

Some U.S. states, mostly from the South, sell specialty automobile license plates that carry a pro-life message. Most say "Choose Life," a phrase taken from Deuteronomy 30:19 in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) of the Bible.

Michigan Christians for Life (MCFL) is one group which promotes this slogan. They offer a free, 3" x 6"  bumper-sticker which says simply "Deuteronomy 30:19," and listed a non-functioning URL for their web site. 1 An essay on the web site states: "We believe if every Christian openly opposed abortion on demand it would end. Sad to say many believers are undecided on the issue. Why is that? Michigan Christians for Life would suggest it is due to a lack of knowledge. How can we change that?" 2
"God made it very clear in His word where we should stand on the issue of Life. He said, 'I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live'." (Deut. 30:19) 1 (Emphasis ours)

However, Deuteronomy 30 appears to be totally unrelated to abortion. Taken out of context, the segment "choose life, that...your children may live" might seem to be an instruction from God that women must decide to continue all pregnancies to childbirth, and to reject abortion. However, the full passage from Verses 15 to 19 clearly shows that  the choice is not over childbirth. It is whether to worship either Jehovah, or the gods of the Canaanites. The incident in Deuteronomy happened during the Exodus, when the Children of Israel were about to initiate an unprovoked attack on Canaan, and commit genocide upon its people -- following God's instructions by slaughtering Canaanite men, women, youths, children, infants and newborns. In effect, they were about to choose death for the Canaanites and blessings for themselves.

It is not God who is speaking in this passage. It is Moses. However, since MCFL appears to be composed almost entirely of conservative Christians, who believe that the Bible is inerrant and its authors were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Thus, they might argue that Moses' speech indirectly came from God.

Moses gives the Children of Israel two choices in this passage:

bullet If they live righteously and worship God alone, then they will be greatly rewarded: "I command thee this day to love the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments, that thou may live and multiply: and the LORD thy God shall bless you in the land wherever you go to possess it." (Verses 15 & 16) 3
bullet The other option is to reject Jehovah and worship other Gods. At the time, the ancient Hebrews believed that there were many Gods in heaven, of whom Jehovah was their own tribal deity: "But if your heart turn away, so that thou will not hear, but shall be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; (Verse 17)

Moses then resorted to sorcery and laid a curse on them, if his people were to choose the latter path. He said: "I denounce unto you this day, that you shall surely perish, and that you shall not prolong your days upon the land, whether you pass over Jordan to go to possess it. I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both you and your children may live." (Verses 18 to 19).

Verse 20 picks up the same theme.

Even though Verse 19 discusses religious choices facing the ancient Hebrews during their Exodus, and is unrelated to abortion, pro-life groups often quote "choose life" portion of this verse out of context.

This essay continues below.

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The license plates:

As of 2002-AUG, "Choose Life" license places were offered by five southern U.S. states: Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi. By early 2003, this had grown to six, including Hawaii. Legislative activity is underway in many more states. Motorists pay an additional fee for these specialty plates which is then routed to non-profit, pro-life groups. Any agency which fully counsels women and helps them explore all of their options -- including abortion -- are generally excluded from funding. Agencies which perform abortions or even refer women on request to an abortion clinic are similarly denied funding.

Most of the Choose Life plates have a format and background color similar to that shown in the above image. However:

bullet The Hawaiian plate has the traditional rainbow symbol and the "Aloha State" slogan which is seen on all current state license plates. A square "Choose Life" symbol appears with a yellow background to the left of the number.
bullet The Louisiana plate has the "Choose Life" slogan at the bottom of the plate, and an image of a pelican -- the official state bird -- delivering a newborn over a red heart background. 4

Many pro-choice groups view the "choose life" plates to be an infringement upon First Amendment freedom of speech and a violation of the principle of separation of church and state. The Center for Reproductive Rights lists three concerns:

bullet Agencies which fully discuss all of the options with pregnant women are generally prohibited from receiving any funds from the program.
bullet Where pro-choice groups have attempted to obtain authorization from their state governments for "Pro-Choice" license plates, they have been refused. Thus, states have promoted the pro-life position but have discriminated against those who advocate other positions.
bullet In some of the states which sell these plates, the government assigns the responsibility of deciding which non-profits will receive funding to religious organizations, such as Catholic Charities. This is a clear violation of the principle of separation of church and state5

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  1. The URL on Michigan Christians for Life's bumper-sticker is "" It was a broken link, which has since been restored.
  2. Michigan Christians for Life's free (as of 2003-FEB-3) bumper-sticker offer is at:
  3. Quotations are taken from the King James Version of the Bible. Archaic spelling has been updated to present-day usage for clarity.
  4. "Louisiana's 'Choose Life' license plates now on sale," Clarion Herald, New Orleans, 2002-NOV-20, at: Ordering information is available from the DPS at:
  5. " 'Choose Life' License Plates: An Infringement on First Amendment Rights," Center for Reproductive Rights, 2002-AUG, at:

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Home page > "Hot" religious topics > Abortion > License Plates > here

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Copyright 2003 & 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-MAR-1
Latest update: 2004-MAR-8
Author: B.A. Robinson

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