Anti-abortion car license plates
States that have approved
plates: Alabama to Ohio
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.
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
- Enabling legislation was passed in 1998 for the sale
and distribution of these plates. However, Governor Chiles (D) vetoed it.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"Get a Choose Life license plate..." The Alabama Pro-Life
Coalition, at: http://www.aplcef.org/
"Choose Life license plates," Iowa Family
Policy Center newsletter, 2003-APR-4.
Kelly Wiese, "Arkansas Gov. Huckabee signs
'Choose Life' plate into law," Associated Press, 2003-MAR-10, at:
"South Carolina Judge Rules Anti-Abortion License Plates
Unconstitutional," Feminist Daily News wire, 2003-JAN-6, at:
"Take a stand for Life,"
"Yearlong county struggle with 'Choose Life tag could end,"
Sun-Herald newspaper, 2004-NOV-25, at:
Aloha Pregnancy Care & Counseling Center is located at: 270 Kuulei
Road, Suite 205
Kailua, HI 96734-2755. Their phone number is: (808) 262-8800
"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:
"Supreme Court Will Not Block Louisiana Choose
Life Plate," Americans United for Life, 2002-OCT-15, at:
Cain Burdeau, "Judge Blocks La. Specialty
License Plates," Yahoo News, 2003-JUL-10, at:
"U.S. Supreme Court Refuses To Hear Appeal Regarding 'Choose Life'
License Plates." Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy, 2006-JUN-27, at:
"Maryland Approves Anti-Abortion License Plates," Feminist Daily
News wire, 2003-SEP-9, at:
Chuck Bowen, "Plates invoke abortion debate," The Post Online,
"ACLU Challenges Law Authorizing 'Choose Life' Plates. License Plate
Sales Due To Begin Next Month," Associated Press, 2005-APR-27, at:
"Ann," "So when do we get our 'Choose Choice" license plates,"
Feministing.com, 2005-APR-29, at:
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