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December 11, 2012

Sanity in NC: ‘Choose Life’ license plates ruled unconstitutional

Posted in: religious right,Reproductive Freedom,Republicans,The South

Before we begin to celebrate, note that in 29 states, these state-sponsored ”Choose Life” plates are actually available. But not in North Carolina — only after the ACLU sued to halt the launch of the plates in the state after it was approved in the 2010-2011 legislative session. The plate was permanently blocked because the state failed to offer a pro-choice alternative plate to drivers. (ACLU):

U.S. District Court Judge James C. Fox ruled on Friday that North Carolina’s plan to offer a specialty “Choose Life” license plate to drivers without offering an alternative plate supporting reproductive freedom was unconstitutional and that the state cannot therefore produce or distribute the “Choose Life” plate.

In the court’s ruling, Judge Fox concluded, “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 American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF) had filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina in September 2011 on behalf of North Carolinians seeking a specialty license plate that supports a woman’s right to reproductive freedom. Judge Fox granted a preliminary injunction in November 2011 that temporarily blocked production of the “Choose Life” plate; that injunction is now permanent.

“This is a great victory for the free speech rights of all North Carolinians, regardless of their point of view on reproductive freedom,” said Chris Brook, Legal Director of the ACLU-NCLF. “The government cannot create an avenue of expression for one side of a contentious political issue while denying an equal opportunity to citizens with the opposite view. We are very pleased that the court agrees that such a one-sided scheme constituted viewpoint discrimination and violated the First Amendment. We would have made the exact same argument if the situation was reversed, and the state planned on issuing a pro-choice plate while not offering one expressing the opposite point of view.”

During the 2011 legislative session, the North Carolina General Assembly passed House Bill 289, which authorized the issuance of a “Choose Life” license plate. However, the legislature repeatedly refused to authorize a plate that supported the countervailing position in favor of reproductive freedom. Six amendments were proposed in the legislature to authorize an additional new plate that stated either, “Trust Women. Respect Choice,” or simply “Respect Choice.” The legislature rejected all six amendments.

Who is the sponsor of this effort to encourage state-sponsored womb-controlling messages in NC? The Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship (CPCF) :

[A] statewide, 501(c)3 nonprofit, pro-life organization committed to equip, encourage, and network pregnancy care ministries in North Carolina.  Included are pregnancy care centers, adoption agencies and maternity homes.

The Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship is the official state contact for Choose Life, Inc., the national organization devoted to getting the Choose Life license plates on the road in all fifty states. Organized in 1987 by a small group of pregnancy center directors who recognized the need for education, encouragement and networking among pregnancy centers, adoption agencies and maternity homes, CPCF now includes approximately eighty pregnancy care ministries in North Carolina.

The federal courts are the only thing holding back right-wing legislators from trying to roll the clock back with state-approved reproductive freedom intimidation tactics. The legislation that originally approved the places also mandated that money raised from their sale would go to that nonprofit supporting the crisis pregnancy centers.

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