South Carolina Choose Life Plates Get Court Hearing
by Steven Ertelt
September 24, 2003
Columbia, SC (LifeNews.com) — Although several states have passed legislation allowing Choose Life license plates, pro-abortion groups have taken them to court three times — and the South Carolina plate was the latest to receive a court hearing.
Assistant Attorney General Tracey Green told the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday that the state’s Choose Life plate was constitutional. He said it did not violate the free speech rights of those state residents that oppose the plate’s message.
"The purpose of this is to advance the state’s interest in promoting childbirth over abortion," Green said. The plate "does not do anything to suppress anyone’s viewpoint," he said.
Pro-abortion groups say the plate is unconstitutional because it provides a forum for pro-life speech and expression but not for those who advocate abortion.
Planned Parenthood attorney Carrie Flaxman argued that the plate was not a speech expression of the state but of private vehicle owners. That means the state must allow her side the ability to express its views as well.
"It’s viewpoint discrimination because the South Carolina Legislature has only authorized plates for people who want to convey that message," Flaxman said.
South Carolina does not offer a companion plate for those who favor abortion, though any legislator could draft a bill creating one.
Holly Gatling, the director of South Carolina Citizens for Life, says Planned Parenthood’s rationale is "mind-boggling."
They oppose the plate "because it gives voice to pro-lifers who believe choosing life for unborn babies is the right ‘choice,’ but denies pro-aborts the ‘right’ to have their own Chose Death license plate," Gatling told LifeNews.com.
"The Choose Life license tag law in no way prevented or currently prevents Planned Parenthood from going to the South Carolina General Assembly and lobbying
for a specialty plate that says Choose Death," Gatling added.
Citizens who want a Choose Life plate pay $70 extra every two years for one. The extra funds support crisis pregnancy programs that provide women with abortion alternatives.
Green said neither Planned Parenthood nor a private resident who sued the state have standing to sue.
In an indication at least one of the three judges on the appeals court may side with Planned Parenthood, Judge M. Blane Michael disagreed with Green that Planned Parenthood and the pro-abortion resident had no standing.
"She has no alternative where she can express her point of view on a license plate – I mean absolutely none," Michael said, according to an Associated Press report. "The Legislature has created a situation where the playing field isn’t level."
In late December of 2002, U.S. District Court Judge William Bertelsman ruled that South Carolina’s Choose Life license plate law is unconstitutional. The state appealed the ruling.
Choose Life plates are available in Louisiana, Maryland, Florida, Arkansas, Alabama, Hawaii, Mississippi and Oklahoma. A lawsuit is ongoing in Louisiana.
The Virginia legislature passed a bill allowing the plates there, but pro-abortion Gov. Mark Warner vetoed the bill and the legislature couldn’t muster enough votes to override it.