Choose Life license plates
Choose Life license plates are specialty license plates available in 29 states in the United States that express a pro-life message. The plates are the concept of Choose Life, Inc., a pro-life advocacy group based in Ocala, Florida. It was founded in 1997 by Randy Harris, a commissioner of Marion County, after he got an idea (when he noticed an environmental plate on the car in front of him, while stuck in traffic) to use specialty license plates as a way to raise funds for promoting adoption over abortion. The plates feature the phrase "Choose Life", a slogan used by the pro-life movement, and a child art-like drawing of two children.
In 1997, Choose Life, Inc. collected the 10,000 signatures and US$30,000 required under Florida law at the time to submit an application for a new specialty plate, and State Senator Tom Lee sponsored a bill in support of the tag's creation. The bill passed both houses of the Florida Legislature in early 1998, but was vetoed by then-Governor Lawton Chiles, who stated that license plates are not the "proper forum for debate" on political issues. While campaigning for the governorship later in 1998, Jeb Bush stated that, if elected, he would sign a Choose Life bill if approved by the legislature. Choose Life, Inc. went forward with the plate application again, and, after passing both houses, Governor Bush signed it into law on June 8, 1999. Since then, Choose Life, Inc. has been active in helping groups in other states pursue "Choose Life" license plates. As of April 30, 2010, Choose Life, Inc. reported that Choose Life license plates had raised over $12 million. On June 21, 2011, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed House Bill 501, which directs the funds from the plates directly to Choose Life, Inc.
Choose Life, Inc. is a non-profit organization, funded by donations and the sale of promotional items, such as t-shirts and neckties. A specialty license plate can cost an additional $25 – $70USD per year, with funds being distributed to crisis pregnancy centers, maternity homes, and non-profit adoption agencies. Funds are explicitly denied going to organizations that offer a full range of reproductive services.
States with Choose Life license plates
As of December 2013, Choose Life license plates are available in 29 states:
States where Choose Life has been rejected
- North Carolina: District Court Judge James Carroll Fox struck down the state's law implementing these plates, saying that the legislature's decision not to offer a pro-choice option as well was "viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment." The ruling has been appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. In February 2014 this ruling was upheld by the court.
- Rhode Island: Gov. Lincoln Chafee vetoed a bill proposing the plates, citing the inappropriateness of using state license plates to fund religious initiatives.
- In New York, the Department of Motor Vehicles' decision not to offer the specialty plates was overruled, but the issuance of the plates was held back pending appeal.
Reaction and criticism
"Choose Life" license plates have been criticized by pro-choice organizations, which have argued that in authorizing them, but not offering plates conveying a pro-choice message at the same time, states have carried out viewpoint discrimination. To this charge, Russ Amerling, Choose Life, Inc.'s publicity coordinator, has replied that "[pro-choice groups] have just as much right to have a plate as we do, as long as they go through the same process we did and not try to piggy-back onto the various states' Choose Life bills".
As of 2013, the United States Supreme Court has not yet clearly spoken on the legality of "Choose Life" specialty plates, and the federal circuits are split on their legality. The 4th Circuit held that issuing an anti-abortion plate but not a pro-choice plate is impermissible viewpoint discrimination, but the 6th Circuit held the opposite. The 7th Circuit ruled that states could refrain from allowing any discussion of abortion on plates.
Pro-choice license plates
Four states currently provide license plates with a pro-choice theme: Hawaii, Montana, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Hawaii was the first state to offer the plates (2003). Virginia differs from the other three states: its license plates had to be approved by its Legislature, and fees from sale and registration of the plates will raise money for Planned Parenthood. The Virginia Legislature did not favor adding pro-choice plates, but had little choice after the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that Virginia allowing pro-life plates meant the plates constituted a public forum for speech. To offer a plate espousing one viewpoint while not allowing an equally popular opposing viewpoint was therefore ruled unconstitutional.
- "'Choose Life' License Plate Vetoed By Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee". AP. July 17, 2013.
- Palmer, Alyson M. (April 6, 2006). "'Choose Life' License Tag May Hit a Bump in the Road." Fulton County Daily Report. Retrieved June 23, 2007.
- Gielow Jacobs, Leslie. (2001). Free Speech and the Limits of Legislative Discretion: The Example of Specialty License Plates. Florida Law Review, 53 (3), 419-432.
- Lithwick, Dahlia. (February 6, 2003). "Poetic Licenses." Slate. Retrieved June 23, 2007.
- "Florida approves `Choose Life' license plate." (Nov 24, 1999). The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved June 23, 2007.
- Olszonowicz, Deborah. (September 1999). Motor Vehicle Registration and License Plates. Retrieved June 23, 2007.
- Burge, Kathleen. (May 5, 2006). "Driving force." Boston Globe. Retrieved June 23, 2007.
- Madigan, Erin. (November 25, 2002). "Choose Life Car Tags Spark Debate." Stateline.org. Retrieved June 24, 2007.
- Choose Life, Inc. (June 18, 2010). Choose Life Newsletter. Retrieved June 18, 2010.
- ""Choose Life" licence plates". Guttmacher Institute. 1 August 2013. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
- Choose-Life.org, accessed December 2013
- Alaska Personalized License Plates
- Wangsness, Lisa. (June 18, 2010). "Antiabortion message for specialty plate." Boston Globe. Retrieved June 18, 2010.
- Pro-Life License Plates Available in Massachusetts. June 21, 2010. LifeSiteNews.com. Retrieved 2010-06-22.
- "The New Jersey Choose Life License Plate is Now Available". The Children First Foundation. Retrieved 2012-02-21.
- Texas Choose Life plate
- "The "Choose Life" License Plate is Approved in Washington,D.C.". The Children First Foundation. Retrieved 2013-12-23.
- 'Choose Life’ license plates for North Carolina nixed by judge, David Boroff, New York Daily News, December 2012
- ‘Choose Life’ License Plate to Have another Day in Court, L.A. Williams, Christian Action League, July 30, 2013
- "Appeal Decision". US Court of Appeals, Fourth District. Retrieved 26 February 2014.
- ‘Choose Life’ plates win a round, Rick Karlin, "Capitol Confidential" Times-Union
- Hurst, Sarah E. (2003). A One Way Street to Unconstitutionality: The “Choose Life” Specialty License Plate. Ohio State Law Journal, 64 (3), 957-998. Retrieved June 24, 2007.
- The Center for Reproductive Rights. (August 2002). "Choose Life" License Plates. Retrieved June 24, 2007.
- W. Alexander Evans (April 2008). "License to Discriminate: 'Choose Life' License Plates and the Government Speech Doctrine". Nevada Law Journal. William S. Boyd School of Law, UNLV, Las Vegas, Nevada. Retrieved 2013-07-03.
- United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (March 22, 2004). "Planned Parenthood of S.C. Inc. v. Rose, 361 F.3d 786 (4th Cir. 2004)". Retrieved 2013-07-03.
- United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (March 17, 2006). "ACLU of Tenn. v. Bredesen, 441 F.3d 370 (6th Cir. 2006)". Retrieved 2013-07-03.
- United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (November 7, 2008). "Choose Life Illinois, Inc. v. White, 547 F.3d 853 (7th Cir. 2008)". Retrieved 2013-07-03.
- "Pro-Choice License Plate Advocated In Virginia: Supporters Threaten Lawsuit". The Huffington Post. May 25, 2011. Retrieved 2012-05-25.