Choose Life license plates are specialty license plates available in 32 [2] [13] 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 . [3] 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 . [36] The plates feature the phrase "Choose Life", a slogan used by the pro-life movement, and a child art -like drawing of two children. [36]

History

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. [36] 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. [36] [5] 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. [36] 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. [36] [6] [37] Since then, Choose Life, Inc. has been active in helping groups in other states pursue "Choose Life" license plates. [8] [9] As of April 30, 2010, Choose Life, Inc. reported that Choose Life license plates had raised over $12 million. [38] On June 21, 2011, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed House Bill 501, which directs the funds from the plates directly to Choose Life, Inc. [11]

Choose Life, Inc. is a non-profit organization , funded by donations and the sale of promotional items, such as T-shirts and neckties. [36] [9] A specialty license plate can cost an additional $25 – $70USD per year. Allocation of funds varies by state but funds typically go to crisis pregnancy centers , and organizations which provide maternity and adoption services, with funds explicitly denied to organizations that offer abortion services, counseling or referrals. [12]

States with Choose Life license plates

As of September 2017, Choose Life license plates are available in 32 states: [13]

  • Alabama
  • Alaska [14]
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts [15] [16]
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska (2017) [39]
  • New Jersey [17]
  • North Carolina (2016) [40]
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas [18]
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington, DC [19]
  • Wisconsin (2016) [41]

States where Choose Life has been rejected

  • Michigan: In 2017, Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed a bill proposing the plates, citing "the potential to bitterly divide millions of Michiganders". [42]
  • New York: For several years, litigation occurred between the Alliance Defense Fund and the Department of Motor Vehicles. The original decision not to offer the specialty plates was overruled, but the issuance of the plates was held back pending an appeal in 2011. [25] After more litigation, in 2015 the NY Department of Motor Vehicles' policy to exclude controversial, politically sensitive messages from plates was “reasonable and viewpoint neutral, which is all that the First Amendment requires" according to the 2nd Circuit majority opinion. [43] After the decision in Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans , which gave states the right to determine whatever speech they want or don't want on plates issued by their state, no further appeal of the 2nd District decision was made by the ADF.
  • Rhode Island: Gov. Lincoln Chafee vetoed a bill proposing the plates, citing the inappropriateness of using state license plates to fund religious initiatives. [2]

Other states

  • In Montana, an administration issue since 2016 has prevented the further issuance of "Choose Life" plates until the issue is resolved. [44]

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. [26] [45] 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". He also pointed out that no "[pro-choice groups] have ever applied for a plate of their own in any state, until a [pro-life group] applied for a "Choose Life" plate." [9]

Before June 2015, the United States Supreme Court had not yet clearly spoken on the legality of "Choose Life" specialty plates, and the federal circuits were split on their legality. [28] The 4th Circuit had twice held that issuing a pro-life plate but not a pro-choice plate is impermissible viewpoint discrimination, [40] [29] but the 6th Circuit held the opposite. [30] The 2nd and 7th Circuits had ruled that states could refrain from allowing any discussion of abortion on plates. [46] [31] When Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans was rendered in June 2015, however, it allowed states to determine whether it wants controversial language on their plates or not, including pro- or anti-abortion language, which precluded further litigation in New York against having the plates as had been decided a month earlier in the 2nd District, [46] or further litigation in North Carolina for the plates, where the interpretation of the 4th Circuit that it was viewpoint discrimination to have one and not the other was reversed in 2016 after a review was demanded by the Supreme Court in light of Walker. [40] Four states currently offer license plates with a pro-choice theme: Hawaii, Montana, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. [3]

See also