- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2001

Floridas approval of "Choose Life" specialty license plates has encouraged anti-abortion groups in several states to push for legislation authorizing the sale of plates bearing the motto. But pro-choice activists are stymieing their efforts.
Opponents of the plates, including the National Organization for Women, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRLP) in New York and the American Civil Liberties Union, say states should not endorse one side of a political issue. They have combined forces to stall the bill process in the courts.
But there are other obstacles. Not least is the fear that if anti-abortion groups are allowed the Choose Life plates, pro-abortion groups must be allowed to produce "Choose Choice" plates or their equivalent.
At least 12 states considered a "Choose Life" vanity plate bill during their 2001 legislative sessions: California, Pennsylvania, Texas, North Carolina, West Virginia, Mississippi, Ohio, South Carolina, Minnesota, Virginia and Alabama.
Individuals or groups from 20 additional states and Canada are inquiring about how to start a "Choose Life" license-plate campaign. Some states, such as Missouri and Kansas, where previous bills were defeated, are trying again.
"Were building public support and talking with interested legislators," says Joan Hawkins, executive director of Kansans for Life. She says the new bill probably will not be introduced again until January.
Only two states have actually passed legislation permitting the "Choose Life" plates: Louisiana and Florida. But there courts have intervened.
Acting on a request by the New York-based Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, Planned Parenthood lobbyist Russell Henderson and others, Judge Stanwood R. Duval Jr. of the U.S. District Court in New Orleans issued an injunction against sale of the plates. The judge declared the pro-life plate is discriminatory because it offers just one point of view.
The ban took effect two weeks after the bill became law in August 1999 and is now being appealed.
But Kathleen Benfield, director of the American Family Association of New Orleans, says, "A license plate isnt a public forum. [The judges rationale] is not relevant because [pro-choice forces] havent even tried. No one has applied for a 'Choose Death license plate."
CRLP attorney Brigitte Amiri says, "Its very, very doubtful that the Louisiana Legislature would pass a pro-choice license plate or that the governor would sign for it." Polls have shown that Louisiana is possibly the most pro-life — and most churched — state.
Until recently, Floridas "Choose Life" plates could not be distributed because of a lawsuit filed by the National Organization for Women that argued the plates violate the separation between church and state.
However, Circuit Judge Nikki Ann Clark of Leon County, Fla., denied NOWs recall request last Friday. She said she will hear a complaint that the "Choose Life" license plate violates free speech, but the plates may remain on sale during that legal process. NOW has 30 days to file the amended complaint and the state of Florida has 20 days thereafter to respond.
The Florida tag sales have totaled more than $440,000 since the pro-life plates went on sale in August. At least 70 percent of funds raised by the plate provide for "the material needs of pregnant women who are committed to placing their children for adoption," the legislation states.
A Mississippi bill that would create a dozen specialty license plates, including a "Choose Life" tag, was defeated on the last day of the three-month 2001 legislative session. One reason for the defeat was that backers of the plate did not want a future tag that would urge motorists to choose abortion.
"The House stance was so pro-life that [representatives] didnt want to leave a loophole that would allow the opposition to have a tag of their own," said Shana Holt, president of the Choose Life Advisory Council, a Mississippi group established solely to oversee the marketing strategy that will promote the plate for next years legislative session.
In West Virginia, state Delegate Bobbie Warner, a Democrat from Harrison, proposed a bill to create specialty plates for veterans, volunteer firefighters and pro-lifers. The latter plate contained the words 'Pro-Life instead of 'Choose Life.
The bill passed in the House after being amended to provide additional plates for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and United Mine Workers of America. It was then sent to the Senate for review. But the Senate rejected the measure and it died in the final moments of the last day of the legislative session, when the original paperwork for the bill vanished.
The states constitution requires that only the original bill can be passed. No bill can become law without the original paperwork and attached amendments.
Karen Cross, executive director of West Virginians for Life, was an eyewitness to the legislative session. She said, "The senators [Oshel Craigo, Putnam Democrat, and Mike Ross, Randolph Democrat] were asking why their bill had not been presented yet, because so many resolutions were being passed. They began to look through the papers and realized it wasnt there. The bill reappeared that next Monday night."
Mrs. Cross says she overheard a staff member for one of the opposing senators predict the failure of the bill to pass hours before the paperwork mysteriously disappeared. The disappearing act has happened before with other controversial bills, she notes.
"People were really excited about the plate, and its a shame that someone had to completely thwart the legislative process," Mrs. Cross said.
Traditionally, specialty license plates pass through legislative sessions with minimum trouble, mostly because they are income generators for the state, particularly in West Virginia, which retains all the proceeds. Most other states send the plate revenue to maternity homes and crisis-pregnancy centers.

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