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Religious Tolerance logo

Anti-abortion car license plates

States that have approved the sale of
"Choose Life" plates: Oklahoma to Tennessee

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See another list for states Alabama to Ohio

Activity by state:

  • Oklahoma: A law enabling production and sale of the plates was signed into law by Governor Frank Keating (R) during 2002-APR, and went into effect on 2002-NOV-1. Plates are available at a premium of $25. Twenty dollars per plate go to the Choose LIfe Assistance Program Revolving Fund which will be distributed to agencies which neither counsel or make referrals "for abortion, do not charge for their services, and help women in crisis pregnancies who choose adoption." The web site includes an application form to purchase plates. 1 Within six months, $2,040 had been raised.

    On 2004-MAR-7, the Oklahoma Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (ORC) Education Fund, Inc.
    "...filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court with six Oklahoma motorists challenging the constitutionality of the state's 'Choose Life' license plates. ORC charges that the distribution of funds raised by the sale of the plates discriminates against pregnancy counseling services that discuss or provide abortions and violates ORC's rights to freedom of speech and equal protection of the law."
     Reverend Linda Morgan Clark, ORC executive director. said:
    "By allowing anti-abortion organizations but not pro-family planning organizations to receive state monies, the Oklahoma Legislature is trampling on the most basic first amendment protections. ORC asks no more than that it and similarly-situated organizations be treated equally and have their own viewpoints respected." 2
    During 2007-MAR, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled that fees voluntarily paid by motorists for specialty license plates are actually state taxes. Thus the matter must be heard by state court. The decision was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, who decided to not review the lower court's ruling. 3
  • South Carolina: "Choose Life" plates were approved in 2001. However, Senior US District Judge William Bertelsman ruled that they violated the First Amendment. The Associated Press reported that Peter Murphy, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood said: "It is wrong for the government to provide a forum for one group and discriminate by viewpoint. The only way to address this may be to eliminate the forum."  4 The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, that court let the lower-court ruling stand. 5

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  • Tennessee: The state legislature approved "Choose Life" plates in 2003. Motorists pay an extra $35 of which some is routed to New Life Resources, a pro-life agency. However the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the state arguing that the state gave pro-life advocates a state forum, while denying the same treatment to the pro-choice movement. Both sides presented their arguments on 2004-MAR-11 in federal court. State attorney Jim Creecy, speaking on behalf of the state government, told U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell that abortion rights groups haven't done enough to petition for their own plate. 20 The federal court agreed with the ACLU. New Life Resources appealed. On 2006-MAR-17, the appeals court ruled for the pro-life group, stating that: "Although this exercise of government one-sidedness with respect to a contentious political issue may be ill-advised, we are unable to conclude the Tennessee statute contravenes the First Amendment."

    According to the Dominion Post in Morgantown WV, the appeals court:

    "...also noted that the First Amendment does not prohibit the government from using private volunteers to put out its message - - even if it is controversial or politically divisive..... The issue is, should the state be in the business of endorsing a government message through seemingly private speech? Specialty license plate programs were not created to promote government messages, but to facilitate private speech. This premise requires the government be viewpoint neutral. Even the governor of Tennessee registered his disapproval of this measure by letting it become law without his signature, and the state did not appeal the ruling that outlawed the plates." 5,6


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

  1. "The Oklahoma Choose Life License Plate," at: http://www.ecognizant.net/okchooselife/
  2. "Oklahoma Religious Coalition Files Lawsuit Challenging 'Choose Life' License Plates," Oklahoma Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (ORC) Education Fund, Inc., 2004-MAR-7, at: http://www.rcrc.org/
  3. "Supreme Court Declines to Review Oklahoma "Choose Life" License Plates Case," Center for Reproductive Rights, 2008-JAN-07, at: http://www.reproductiverights.org/
  4. "South Carolina Judge Rules Anti-Abortion License Plates Unconstitutional," Feminist Daily News wire, 2003-JAN-6, at: http://www.feminist.org/
  5. "We can't help but get the message: Federal court's OK of ?Choose Life' plates in Tennessee...," Dominion Post, Morgantown WV, 2006-MAR-19, at: http://www.romingerlegal.com/
  6. Matt Gourdas, "Court hears arguments over Tennessee anti-abortion license plate," Associated Press, 2004-MAR-11, at: http://www.jacksonville.com/

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Home > "Hot" religious topics > Abortion > here

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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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