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“Choose Life” License Plates Making Gains in States

Since January, when a South Carolina judge ruled “Choose Life” specialty license plates unconstitutional because they provided a forum for anti-abortion supporters and not pro-choice advocates, anti-abortion forces promoting the plates have won victories in several states and in the courts.

Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee signed a bill allowing the “Choose Life” plates in the state last week, joining six other states. Some of the proceeds from the sale of the tags will go to groups that encourage adoption, but no funds can go to organizations that support abortion rights or provide abortion services, according to AP. Rita Sklar, director of the state’s American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) chapter, has vowed to challenge the law in the courts because the state is “supporting a particular political point of view” and providing funding to it, which is “improper under the First Amendment,” she said, according to AP. Virginia’s state legislature has passed a bill to create “Choose Life” plates, and Democratic Governor Mark Warner has until March 24 to deal with the legislation, according to the Washington Times. The primary sponsor of the bill, Republican Delegate Richard Black, has also supported a spate of anti-abortion bills in Virginia, including a bill banning so-called “partial-birth” abortion. Warner vetoed a similar bill last year, and his press secretary told the Times that “the governor has expressed concerns in the past about using license plates as a form of political speech.” Nevada’s state legislature is also considering the license plates, AP reports.

Meanwhile, the 11th District Court of Appeals ruled on March 7 that several pro-choice groups that filed suit against the state’s “Choose Life” plates did not have standing to challenge the constitutionality of the law, according to the Associated Press. The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) and other groups challenged the law because profits from the license plates are prohibited from going to groups that offer abortions. The US Supreme Court in December refused to hear a similar case challenging Louisiana’s law, but in a surprising turn of events the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which had earlier refused to hear the case, revived the challenge by agreeing to hear the case if the plaintiffs amend their complaint to “challenge the state’s overall policy and practice of issuing specialty license plates,” according to CRR.

Sources:

Associated Press 3/10/03, 3/14/03; CRR 1/7/03; Washington Times 3/6/03; Feminist Daily News Wire

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