Federal Judge Issues Injunction to Stop North Carolina From Using ‘Pro-Life’ License Plates

North Carolina has decided to compete with Georgia in the license plate arena. The North Carolina legislature approved a license plate which would read “Choose Life.”*

Yesterday, a federal judge put a stop to this nonsense with a preliminary injunction. Katherine Lewis Parker, Legal Director of the ACLU North Carolina Legal Foundation (which argued against the North Carolina DMV) previously said in a press release:

“This is a basic issue of freedom of speech and fairness. It is a fundamental tenet of the First Amendment that the State cannot use its authority to promote one side of a debate while denying the same opportunity to the other side. Anyone who supports freedom of speech should agree with this stance, regardless of one’s position on abortion. Our position would be the same if the State had authorized a pro-choice license plate but not an anti-choice alternative. In that situation, the ACLU-NCLF would be suing on behalf of anti-choice drivers under the exact same theory of viewpoint discrimination.”

“If anti-choice drivers are permitted to express their views on their license plates, people like me should be able to express our view that women deserve full reproductive freedom,” said Sue Holliday, plaintiff and certified nurse midwife.

(I like how they both use “anti-choice.” Nice touch. See the footnote below.) Now, the ACLU appears to have limited their legal arguments to the idea that if you give a government-sponsored voice to one side of the debate, you have to give it to the other. (They requested a license plate which read “Respect Choice”). My issues with this go further, though. There’s a big problem with where the money is going from these license plates. The Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship gets $15 of every $25 that a driver pays for these plates. Now, there’s a debate to be had about whether this is private speech and thus protected by the First Amendment. My particular problem with this is found in the organization’s mission statement:

Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship (CPCF) is a statewide, 501(c)3 nonprofit, pro-life organization committed to offering help and encouragement to those God calls into pregnancy care ministry, especially those located in North Carolina.

Their site indicates they run crisis pregnancy centers. By approving this license plate and the revenue that would come from it, the state legislature (at the very least) is implicitly approving this position and the underlying religious rationale. They all, as individuals, can believe whatever they want. It’s way out of line to make this sort of religiously-justified rhetoric into the Official State Position.

The good news is that in order to win a motion for a preliminary injunction you have to show a “likelihood of success on the merits.” That means the judge has already shown a sympathy towards the ACLU’s position by granting the motion. The only logical outcome of this suit is to require the DMV to provide either an alternative or withdraw the “pro-life” plate option.

(I know, I know, lots of non-profits with religious bases get public funds. Doesn’t mean I have to think it’s constitutional.)

*There’s a whole discussion here to be had about the rhetorical uses of “life” and “choice” labels in this debate. I mean, who’s against life?

About Carrie

Carrie Clark is a lawyer in Illinois. The opinions herein are that of the author only. Any information in this post is for discussion purposes only, and is not offered as legal advice.

  • Bob

    not really relevant but the plate made me think of

    Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin can openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked-up brats you have spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life . . .

    • http://tch3.com C High

      Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?

    • Michael

      I also thought of this. How did “Choose life” get to mean anything other than hard drugs?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=750428174 Paddy Reddin

      That’s exactly what I thought too, in Ewan McGregor’s accent no less.

  • Anonymous

    Every time I see the term “pro-life”, I make a mental substitution:  “pro-fetus”.  The people who claim to be “pro-life” don’t seem to care so much about “the post-born”.

    • Coconut

      Do you listen to Godless Bitches? I like Beth’s term ‘anti-choice’, which is exactly what it is.

      • Jesster

        I think the term ‘anti-choice’ is just as bad.

        I’ve, of course, never liked the label ‘pro-life’, as it is in part meant to imply that their opposition must therefore be ‘anti-life’, which is of course ridiculous.  But by the same token, the label ‘pro-choice’ has always implied that the opposition was ‘anti-choice’, and now lots of people skipping the sly implications and coming out and stating it plainly.  This is equally ridiculous.  The anti-abortion crowd aren’t against a person’s choice of which brand of laundry detergent to buy and more than their opposition are in favor of a burglar’s choice to break into your house and steal your TV.

        Conservatives aren’t ‘pro-life’, they’re pro- certain specific forms of life ( human embryos/fetuses).  And they’re not ‘anti-choice’, they’re anti- certain specific choices (the choice to abort a human embryo/fetus).

        How about we skip the emotionally manipulative terminology on both sides and label things as they actually are.  They may not be as catchy, but my preferred terms are:

        pro-reproductive rights
        anti-abortion

        • Coconut

          ‘…they’re anti- certain specific choices (the choice to abort a human embryo/fetus).’

          Exactly. That’s anti-choice. Their position is exactly to not give a woman the right to decide what to do with her own body. ‘Anti- certain specific choices’ is still anti-choice. And what we’re talking about here is abortion/reproductive rights; we don’t need to say the subject when the subject is already known. The fact is they are against the right of the woman to have the choice to choose abortion.

          Emotionally manipulative? You mean let’s not tell people how it is ’cause it might hurt their feelings? Oh no.

          • Jesster

            Look, I really hate to look like I’m coming down on the side of the anti-abortion conservatives.  I probably agree with you 100% on the actual issue itself, however I find it a bit hypocritical to criticize the opposition’s choice of label, when our own, is really just as bad.  Your entire argument above defending the pro/anti-choice label can easily be rephrased to defend the pro/anti-life label, and it works just as well:

            “Exactly.  That’s anti-life.  Their position is exactly to not give a developing fetus/embryo the right to live.  ‘Anti- certain forms of life’ is still anti-life.  And what we’re talking about here is abortion/rights of the unborn; we don’t need to say the subject when the subject is already known…”

            And incidentally, if  “‘Anti- certain specific choices’ is still anti-choice.”, then I guess I’m ‘anti-choice’ as there are lots of specific choices that I’m opposed to (the choice to drive a car while intoxicated, the choice to beat up people who disagree with you, etc.)

            Finally, in response to this remark:

            “Emotionally manipulative? You mean let’s not tell people how it is ’cause it might hurt their feelings? Oh no.”
            No, I mean let’s tell people exactly how it is rather than making subtle (or blatant) implications that misrepresent the other side.  Both the terms “Life” and “Choice” are very broad terms that are generally considered to by good things in most cases by most people.  They’re the sort of “warm fuzzy” concepts like “freedom” and “prosperity” that everybody is supposed to be in favor of.  By labeling yourself “pro-” one of those, you’re implying that your opposition is opposed to one of these “warm fuzzy” concepts.  And regardless of whether that was the original intent when the label was chose, that IS emotionally manipulative.

    • April

       This is my biggest problem with the people who are very vocal about being pro-life. While I would still disagree with their stance, I would have more respect if they didn’t let their efforts stop at preventing a woman from having an abortion: if they would help that woman keep her employment, pay for daycare and other living expenses. Basically, if they’d help to raise that life that they think is so important to protect.

    • CK

      Exactly. To them..life begins at conception and ends at birth. Simple as that. I volunteered this past summer as an escort for girls into Planned Parenthood and it was horrific what these people with so much “love” do.

  • Anonymous

    Alabama has a “Choose LIfe” license plate that benefits the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition.  I wonder if this ruling will spark actions in other states?

    • kaileyverse

      After several attempts  – Texas passed their “choose adoption” plates this year – these plates also serve to sponsor pregnancy homes and cpcs that have christian missions. 

  • Lgirl

    I fail to understand why the Car license plate became an advertisment. Maybe we need Pepsi and Taco Bell Plates too. Seriously keep it simple, a number and the state motto  Canada got it right on this one.

    • Jbuchy

      I live in Canada [Edmonton] and there are plates available that honor veterans.  And, in a couple of provinces that I know of,  you can get a licence plate celebrating sports teams. In Saskatchewan you can get a Saskatchewan Rough Riders plate and in Manitoba you can get a Winnipeg Jets or a Winnipeg Blue Bombers plate.

      • Lgirl

        See! That’s cool especially the Veteran’s plates! No abortio, God messages. Nothing to tick people off unless you you hate the blue bombers! :-)

        • Jbuchy

          Well, I am a Blue Bomber fan and they did NOT beat the BC Lions for the Grey Cup [our Super Bowl] so I am sad now.

    • Tim

      British plates used to just be the number in black on a white background (or yellow background for the rear of the vehicle).  That is until the EU decided it wanted to standardise across the whole continent (god knows why they thought that was needed – it seems like you Americans can manage with a multiplicity of designs in a single state and yet function as a single country) so they added a country code in the EU flag (so GB for the UK).   Of course that became political to anti-EU folks and some actually started to cover the EU stars up with a sticker like this one http://www.ukip.org/shop/product/view/30-gb-number-plate-stickers .  I guess that car-sales people didn’t want to sell vehicles with potentially contravertial plates so most of them reverted to the old style.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    I think states need to get out of competing with bumper stickers and get back to what license plates are supposed to be about: identifying vehicles for legal purposes. Note that on the above plate, the actual identifying characters only occupy less than one fourth the area of the full plate.

    • Tim

      Quite.  Lets just have the number in black on a white background for maximum legibility of the licence number which is all these plates ought to be about. 

  • Sesoron

    “It is a fundamental tenet of the First Amendment that the State
    cannot use its authority to promote one side of a debate while denying
    the same opportunity to the other side.”Does that mean I can opt in to secular coins and bills? We all know it already means I can choose to substitute “Thor”, “Zeus”, “FSM”, “Xenu”, “Pelor”, “the Force”, “Me”, “Satan”, or “the Constitution” for “God” in the Pledge.

  • Anonymous

    Well, both names are misleading. Just because you aren’t pro-life doesn’t mean you are against all life and just because you aren’t pro-choice doesn’t mean you are against all choice.  This is only about the life of the fetus and whether you have the right to choose to abort the fetus.

    • kaileyverse

      It is certainly a legality issue – and people who want to take away other living beings rights can piss off.

      • Anonymous

        And the Pro-life and Pro-choice sides are going to interpret “living being’s rights” very differently.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jim-Charlotte/100001257871259 Jim Charlotte

    I want mine to say “Choose Life, Not War”

  • The Captain

    “There’s a whole discussion here to be had about the rhetorical uses of “life” and “choice” labels in this debate. I mean, who’s against life?”

    Your right, and that has been my biggest problem with the whole “pro-choice” movement for the past 30 years. They are refusing to have the same debate as the anti-abortionist are. It’s not “pro-life” vs “pro-choice”, it’s “pro-life” vs “it’s not fucking alive and you have no right to force that ridiculous belief on me anyway”. 

    I’m getting real sick of every time I see some debate on TV or in a paper the anti-abortionist talk about “life”, “babies”, “murder”, children” ect… and all the pro-choice person ever addresses is some nebulous “choice” and “freedom”. Sorry but if you convince people of the ridiculous belief that a clump of cells is a baby, then there is no “choice” in the matter. The “pro-choice” crowd has got to start to address the fundamental beliefs of the antiabortionist movement and show how wrong they are. 

    • http://twitter.com/enuma enuma

      “Sorry but if you convince people of the ridiculous belief that a clump
      of cells is a baby, then there is no “choice” in the matter.”

      There should be.  A five year old in renal failure is definitely a person, but that doesn’t obligate me to give him one of my kidneys.  Even if a clump of cells is a baby, that shouldn’t obligate a woman to give it her uterus.

    • http://twitter.com/PensiveAfeto Not You

      It’s not as if the pro-choice hasn’t pointed this out. I am going to take a stab here and say that you don’t follow a lot of pro-choice blogs.

      • The Captain

        No of course I don’t follow pro-choice blogs, and pretty much nobody outside the movement does either. why should they? Are people supposed to follow every blog about every topic to hear the best arguments? 

        No what I see of the movement is what the average person would too, news/magazine (internet or print)  articles and TV time. And that’s the most important. Blogs are pretty much for the already converted. It’s in national exposer outlets (and even bumper stickers and billboards) where the pro-choice pundits/speakers/politicians fall down on their face avoiding the anti-abortionist arguments, and thus let the anti-abortionist win by default. And sadly that is where the pro-choice movement fails in it’s communications the most.

  • Bee

    @The Captain- Actually, the fetus is ALIVE.  I am pro-choice, but it makes me a little sick to my stomach every time I hear someone argue that the fetus is not alive – just because it’s not a fully formed human yet.  That’s not what the debate and the law is about.  It is, indeed, about the choice to terminate a pregnancy at a point where the fetus is alive and thriving, yet not technically a “person”.  

    • http://twitter.com/enuma enuma

      I’ve seen people argue that a fetus is not a person, but I’ve never seen anyone argue that a fetus isn’t alive.

      Saying that life doesn’t begin at conception isn’t the same as saying that a fetus isn’t alive.  It’s just pointing out that life begins well (as in about 3.5 to 4 billion years) before conception.  You can’t claim life begins at conception unless you believe the egg and sperm are dead cells that only become animate when combined.

    • The Captain

      thank you for reminding me why I hate having this conversation on internet comment boards. 

      Sure it’s “alive” in the same way carrots are “alive” but using those definitions do nothing to further the debate. If you couldn’t figure out my meaning then you need to not take words so literally. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=23430830 Matthew Shepherd

    I want a license plate that reads: “CHOOSE CONTRACEPTIVES”.

  • Josh

    We’ve got this in Indiana too… 
    http://www.in.gov/bmv/2794.htm

    • Rod Chlebek

      NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!
      Dammit, Mitch.

  • Anonymous

    I think of it as “Pro Individual Choice” and “Pro Government Choice”. It’s all about who has the authority to make life altering decisions for the people and potential people involved. 

  • http://twitter.com/godtalkradio godtalkradio

    Great, so if I understand this ruling correctly, this would also mean that in Minnesota (where I live) where we have specialized license plates for “protecting wildlife”…we should should also award “pro-industrialization” groups the opportunity to have an anti-wildlife license plate as well?

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

      Yes.

    • Anonymous

      There probably should be a distinction between the existence of a logical contradiction and the existence of a dissenting opinion expressed by a group that deserves equal representation.

      Is there really an anti-wildlife group of people needing a voice? If so then, yes, otherwise you’re just throwing out a straw man.

    • Ross

      I was thinking something similar.  Here in FL there is a pro-manatee license plate.  It’s clearly pushing a particular viewpoint as regulations over water use in FL are quite contentious.   There are certainly groups that oppose stricter use of waterways to protect these animals so I guess the license plate should be banned according to the ACLU.

      • http://twitter.com/FelyxLeiter Felyx Leiter

        Oh, come on.  The groups upset over waterway regulation are not pushing for the extinction of manatees.  Being opposed to waterway regulation and being pro-manatee are not mutually exclusive.  It’s not peddling any viewpoint about the waterways to express interest in saving an endangered animal. “Save the Manatee” plates make no statement about their habitat. It could just as easily infer breeding practices as waterway use.

        • Ross

          I just think the ACLU’s rationale is overly broad.  Even if it doesn’t apply to manatee plates, I’m sure some clever conservative lawyer could find a left-wing related plate in some state and make the same argument.

          • http://twitter.com/FelyxLeiter Felyx Leiter

            This isn’t an issue of left versus right–it’s constitutional versus unconstitutional.  If there were such a plate that reflected a left-leaning ideology and didn’t allow a dissenting view, it would be equally as unconstitutional as this and that conservative lawyer would have every right to pursue his case.  I personally have a hard time trying to think of any “leftist” ideology that would be half as controversial as abortion being used on a license plate, and additionally didn’t allow an opposing voice.  This is really overstepping bounds here, and the ACLU is going with the most basic interpretation of the law.

  • Rod Chlebek

    Dammit! Another one. It’s like a virus!

  • Sam

    Judge just can’t brook the Comic Sans.

  • http://twitter.com/PensiveAfeto Not You

    I, unfortunately, live in Arkansas and I see lots of the “Choose life” license plates. The money goes to a crisis pregnancy center and it makes me sick to see it.
    I am not 100% sure if the state just won’t allow the pro-choice side to have their own license plate or if too many people are too scared to come out and say they respect a woman’s right to make decisions about her body.
    *shrug*
    I don’t see why some people just can’t be happy with having a bumper sticker and/or just writing a check to the organizations they support and calling it a day.

  • Gus Snarp

    These license plate stories make me think that States have opened a pandora’s box with all these different plates. Maybe the license plate showing that your car is legally registered just shouldn’t be a place for self expression. Maybe states should go back to having one plate, emblazoned only with the necessary information and designed for high visibility.

    But I’m an old curmudgeon, I don’t see why people don’t get ticketed for having frames that obscure part of the plate or tinted or scratched covers that make them difficult to read.

  • Sware

    For feck’s sake, buy a dang bumper sticker, people!  Let a license plate be and do the job of a license plate…period.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

    The phrase “Choose Life” always suggest this to me
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Naf_WiEb9Qs


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