Anti-abortion car license plates
States that have approved
plates: Oklahoma to Tennessee
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
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
"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
- 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.
- "The Oklahoma Choose Life License Plate," at:
- "Oklahoma Religious Coalition Files Lawsuit Challenging 'Choose Life'
License Plates," Oklahoma Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (ORC)
Education Fund, Inc., 2004-MAR-7, at:
- "Supreme Court Declines to Review Oklahoma "Choose Life"
License Plates Case," Center for Reproductive Rights,
- "South Carolina Judge Rules Anti-Abortion License Plates
Unconstitutional," Feminist Daily News wire, 2003-JAN-6, at:
- "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,
- Matt Gourdas, "Court hears arguments over Tennessee anti-abortion
license plate," Associated Press, 2004-MAR-11, 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