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Religious Tolerance logo

Anti-abortion car license plates

States that have approved the sale of
"Choose Life" plates: Alabama to Ohio

Sponsored link.

Activity by state:

  • Alabama: Specialty plates can be purchased for a premium of $50. The Alabama Pro-Life Coalition web site includes instructions on how to apply for a plate. 1 The Iowa Family Policy Center reported on 2003-APR-4 that $59,000 had been raised in the state from the sale of these license plates. 2
  • Arkansas: Governor Mike Huckabee signed a bill into law on 2003-MAR-10 authorizing a "Choose Life" license plate. Motorists who choose to purchase this plate pay an additional $35.00. Proceeds are distributed among agencies that counsel women to consider adoption. No money will go to agencies that either provide abortions or give referrals to such agencies. Huckabee said: ''We believed it was a great opportunity to assist in the adoption process and at the same time make a statement about the sanctity of life.'' Rita Sklar, the director of the ACLU in Arkansas said that the issue is not abortion but the state taking sides on a political issue and directing money in their preferred direction. She said: ''You have the government setting up a scheme whereby it is supporting a particular political point of view. That is improper under the First Amendment.'' 3
  • Florida:
    • Enabling legislation was passed in 1998 for the sale and distribution of these plates. However, Governor Chiles (D) vetoed it.
    • The bill was resubmitted in 1999, was passed, and was signed into law by Governor Bush (R-FL) on 1999-JUN-10. Florida is believed to have been the first jurisdiction in the world to offer "Choose Life" plates. The additional cost iss $22, of which $20 is forwarded to pro-life groups. Florida counties are responsible for the distribution of funds; however, some have delegated this task to religious groups.
    • In 2003-MAR, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Women's Emergency Network could not sue the state of Florida to have the "Choose Life" plates discontinued. The lawsuit was dismissed on procedural grounds. However, the First District Court of Appeal ruled that the dismissal was improper. Barry Silver, an attorney representing NOW's South Palm Beach chapter told the Sun-Sentinel: "The big issue for me and my clients is that our country is faced with terrorism from abroad, but in Florida, we've seen homegrown terrorism specifically by religious fanatics against abortion clinics. Their slogan of choice is 'Choose Life.' The last thing we want to do is put the state's imprimatur on a slogan that is used to sow violence and domestic terrorism." 4
    • The program had raised over $1,513,614 by 2003-APR. 5
    • Charlotte County in Florida spent a year trying to find agencies to whom they could dispense the $18,000 collected from the specialty plates. They started with a large list. But most agencies will refer women to abortion clinics under some circumstances, like a threat to their life or the probability of a devastating disability. In late 2003-NOV, they finally found two that met the law's requirements: a Baptist Pregnancy Testing Center and a Roman Catholic Pregnancy Crisis Careline. 6
  • Hawaii: Plates are available. Their advertising and distribution appears to be a very low-key program. 7 As of 2003-APR, only $4,900 had been raised. A friend of one of the OCRT staff members visited Hawaii in 2004-DEC for a month-long vacation. She looked for these plates on passing vehicles, but found none.
  • Louisiana: This state makes over 150 different special interest plates available, including 35 styles for various types of veterans, 39 for university and college graduates, etc.  Legislation for "Choose Life" plates was passed in 1999. An amendment to another bill which would have made a pro-choice plate available to the public was rejected by the legislature. Distribution of the plates was delayed because of several legal challenges at the state and federal court levels. On 2002-OCT-16, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from a lower court, thus allowing the law to be implemented. Sales of the plates started on 2002-NOV-1. Distribution of funds was performed by three fundamentalist Christian para-church organizations which formed the "Choose Life Council." 8,9 In the first six months, $19,500 had been raised.

    On 2003-JUL-8, U.S. District judge Stanwood Duval blocked the state from issuing all current specialty license plates, including the Choose Life tags. His ruling was based on the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, because the state provides anti-abortion plates but does not offer plates for opposing views. Judge Duval wrote: "If the state built a convention hall for speech and then only allowed people to speak with whom they agreed with their message, the state's actions would be in contravention of the First Amendment. There is no significant difference in the case before the court." Steven Johnston, spokesman for Gov. Mike Foster, said: "It seems like a weird decision to take away the free speech rights of everybody else who has a specialty plate." William Rittenberg, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said that specialty plates are not actually banned. It is just the mechanism by which the state authorizes them which has been declared unconstitutional. He said the state could follow the precedent that many other states do and issue specialty plates to be issued whenever a certain number of people request them. 10

    The decision was reversed on appeal by a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on 2005-APR. In May, the case was appealed to the full court which had a split decision (8-8) in December. This left the reversal in place. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal in 2006-JUN. 11
  • Maryland: The state adopted a regulation in 1998 that allow non-profit groups that had at least 25 members to apply for a specialty license plate. Choose Life of Maryland, Inc. applied for and were granted "Choose Life" license plates. Production started in the summer of 2003. Presumably a pro-choice group could apply for and obtain "Keep Abortion Legal" or "Consider Adoption" plates. 12
  • Mississippi: The state legislature passed enabling legislation during 2002. Governor Ronnie Musgrove signed the bill into law on 2002-APR. The extra fee is $30. During the first year, $53,640 had been raised.

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  • Ohio: Governor Bob Taft signed a bill on 2005-FEB-15 which will allow Ohioans to buy "Choose Life" license plates, starting in May. The plates say "Ohio, Birthplace of Aviation" at the top, and "Choose life" at the bottom. At the left side of the plate is a drawing of two children  with the caption: "Adoption builds a family." Carrie Davis of the Ohio ACLU said: "Not a single court in the country has said the license plates have constitutional muster... the precedent at this point says they can't do it," she said. "There's a very real likelihood the ACLU will sue." She said that Ohio would be engaging in "viewpoint discrimination" by allowing only one side of a debate to be heard. She continued: "When the state creates a specialty license plate that has a political message, the state has created a limited public forum. Once they open up the forum, it has to be open to everybody."

    Twenty dollars from the sale of each plate gord into a special Choose Life Fund which will be distributed to private, non-profit groups that support adoption. Agencies which mention abortion as an option during counseling or which refer clients to abortion providers on request are denied funding. 13

    The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio launched a lawsuit in Cleveland federal court on 2005-APR-27 to block sale of the plates. 14 According to a posting on the feministing.com web site:
    "The lawsuit hinges on viewpoint discrimination against pro-choicers, because the Ohio legislature rejected a license plate with a pro-choice message. Of the 10 states that have 'Choose Life' plates, none offer plates that read 'Choose Choice.' 'This is a case about fundamental fairness,' said Carrie Davis, ACLU of Ohio staff attorney. 'The State of Ohio cannot open a public forum to one side of a debate without allowing the same access to all other sides'." 15
     A federal judge dismissed the ACLU case in 2005-OCT.

This list continues with states Oklahoma to Tennessee


The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Get a Choose Life license plate..." The Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, at: http://www.aplcef.org/
  2. "Choose Life license plates," Iowa Family Policy Center newsletter, 2003-APR-4.
  3. Kelly Wiese, "Arkansas Gov. Huckabee signs 'Choose Life' plate into law," Associated Press, 2003-MAR-10, at: http://www.boston.com/dailynews/
  4. "South Carolina Judge Rules Anti-Abortion License Plates Unconstitutional," Feminist Daily News wire, 2003-JAN-6, at: http://www.feminist.org/
  5. "Take a stand for Life,"  http://www.choose-life.org/
  6. "Yearlong county struggle with 'Choose Life tag could end," Sun-Herald newspaper, 2004-NOV-25, at: http://www.sun-herald.com/
  7. Aloha Pregnancy Care & Counseling Center is located at: 270 Kuulei Road, Suite 205 Kailua, HI 96734-2755. Their phone number is: (808) 262-8800
  8. "Louisiana's 'Choose Life' license plates now on sale," Clarion Herald, New Orleans, 2002-NOV-20, at: http://clarionherald.org/20021120/art005.htm Ordering information is available from the DPS at: http://omv.dps.state.la.us
  9. "Supreme Court Will Not Block Louisiana Choose Life Plate," Americans United for Life, 2002-OCT-15, at: http://www.unitedforlife.org/
  10. Cain Burdeau, "Judge Blocks La. Specialty License Plates," Yahoo News, 2003-JUL-10, at: http://story.news.yahoo.com/
  11. "U.S. Supreme Court Refuses To Hear Appeal Regarding 'Choose Life' License Plates." Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy, 2006-JUN-27, at: http://www.kaisernetwork.org/
  12. "Maryland Approves Anti-Abortion License Plates," Feminist Daily News wire, 2003-SEP-9, at: http://www.feminist.org/
  13. Chuck Bowen, "Plates invoke abortion debate," The Post Online, 2005-FEB-16, at: http://thepost.baker.ohiou.edu/
  14. "ACLU Challenges Law Authorizing 'Choose Life' Plates. License Plate Sales Due To Begin Next Month," Associated Press, 2005-APR-27, at: http://www.newsnet5.com/
  15. "Ann," "So when do we get our 'Choose Choice" license plates," Feministing.com, 2005-APR-29, at: http://www.feministing.com/

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Copyright © 2003 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-MAR-1
Latest update and review: 2008-DEC-23
Author: B.A. Robinson

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