A federal appeals court ruled today that Choose Life license plates are unconstitutional unless a pro-abortion version is also offered to motorists.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard a challenge brought by the ACLU against the 2011 North Carolina law that would allow the production of a specialty “Choose Life” license plate.
Last December U.S. District Court Judge James C. Fox ruled against the law because “The State’s offering of a Choose Life license plate in the absence of a pro-choice plate constitutes viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment.” The state attorney general appealed.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in a 3-0 opinion written by Judge James Wynn of North Carolina.
“Chief amongst the evils the First Amendment prohibits are government ‘restrictions distinguishing among different speakers, allowing speech by some but not others,’” Wynn wrote, quoting an unrelated U.S. Supreme Court decision. “In this case, North Carolina seeks to do just that: privilege speech on one side of the hotly debated issue — reproductive choice — while silencing opposing voices.”
Currently 29 states make “Choose Life” license available, including South Carolina. New York is the one other state that has a pending lawsuit over the plates.
The pro-life license plate was one of dozens of other specialty plate options the state legislature approved in September 2011. No tags have been produced after a preliminary injunction was issued in November 2011.
There is a $25 fee for the plate, with $15 going to the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship.
Bobbie Meyer, director of the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, told reporters “The choose life license plate has already raised over 12 million dollars in the states that allow them thereby helping mothers and their families,” she said. “Here in North Carolina, there are 85 pregnancy care centers who last year saw over 46,000 women and children.”
The lawsuit claims the new plates abridge the free speech rights of pro-abortion state residents and the ACLU has filed a request for an injunction preventing the sales of the plates.
Barbara Holt, the president North Carolina Right to Life, told LifeNews.com in response to the lawsuit: “Pro-life groups worked for years to get a Choose Life Specialty Plate through the General Assembly. There is nothing to prevent the individuals who are suing the state from putting forward the same effort to get a plate of their own.”
During the legislative process, lawmakers rejected multiple attempts to add a “Respect Choice” license plate supporting abortion.
Carteret County Republican Rep. Pat McElraft told legislators the plates will raise money for Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship and “save some babies’ lives.” However, some Democrats opposed the measure because they didn’t want licence plates becoming a forum for debate on abortion.
Despite popular support for the plate, Planned Parenthood officials strongly opposed it.
“These license plates are specialty plates that bear an anti-choice message,” the group said in an email LifeNews.com obtained asking its members to urge legislators to vote no.
CLICK LIKE IF YOU’RE PRO-LIFE!
Planned Parenthood complained that the funds from the plate will go to pregnancy centers that provide women with real choices and tangible help in an unplanned pregnancy. As the abortion business claimed, the centers “promise comprehensive medical advice and services but deliver anti-choice propaganda.” Planned Parenthood also complained it would be ineligible to receive funds because it does abortions while the plate’s goals are to promote adoption and helping women in crisis pregnancies.
The approval of the Choose Life plate comes after significant hard work from pro-life groups in the state, including North Carolina Right to Life and North Carolina Pro-Life Democrats.
The Tar Heel State is home to over 100 specialized license plates promoting everything from Save the Sea Turtle to NASCAR driver Greg Biffle. The Choose Life tag was tied up in the Transportation Committee for five years and now, residents may be closer to having tags available.