South Carolina Judge Rules Anti-Abortion License Plates Unconstitutional

A South Carolina judge ruled recently that specialty license plates sporting an anti-abortion slogan are unconstitutional because they provide a forum for anti-abortion extremists without providing a voice for abortion rights activists. Senior US District Judge William Bertelsman said that the plates, originally approved by the South Carolina legislature in 2001, violate the First Amendment. “It is wrong for the government to provide a forum for one group and discriminate by viewpoint,” said Peter Murphy, an attorney for Planned Parenthood, according to the Associated Press. “The only way to address this may be to eliminate the forum.” The state plans to appeal the decision.

Meanwhile in Florida, where 36,000 anti-abortion plates have been sold since 2000, the First District Court of Appeal ruled that a Florida judge had improperly dismissed a National Organization for Women (NOW) lawsuit alleging that the license plates are unconstitutional. “The big issue for me and my clients is that our country is faced with terrorism from abroad, but in Florida, we’ve seen homegrown terrorism specifically by religious fanatics against abortion clinics,” Barry Silver, an attorney representing NOW’s South Palm Beach chapter told the Sun-Sentinel. “Their slogan of choice is ‘Choose Life.’ The last thing we want to do is put the state’s imprimatur on a slogan that is used to sow violence and domestic terrorism.”

Legislatures in four other states have approved the license plates – vehicles in Hawaii, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Mississippi can be seen displaying the anti-abortion message. In Alabama anti-abortion extremists bypassed the state legislature and instead had the state License Plate Oversight Committee approve the tags. Efforts are currently underway to get similar plates in several other states, including Georgia, Virginia and New Hampshire. Proceeds from the plates, which tend to cost approximately $20 more than a regular license plate, are typically distributed to crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs). Although CPCs are advertised and marketed as legitimate women’s health clinics, their staff consists of abortion opponents rather than medical professionals. Women entering CPCs are frequently coerced into watching gory anti-abortion videos and counseled on the severe impacts of “post-abortion syndrome,” a condition for which the American Psychological Association finds there is no evidence. In Florida, more than $1.1 million in proceeds from the plates has been disbursed so far to CPCs.


Orlando Sentinel 1/4/03; Union Leader 1/3/03; Associated Press 12/31/02; Sun-Sentinel 12/24/02; Feminist Daily News 8/23/02

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