Virginia may be on the verge of offering drivers a pro-choice specialty license plate with proceeds from the sale of the plates going to Planned Parenthood. Last month a bill to create the Virginia license plate “Trust Women, Respect Choice” was passed by the House of Delegates with an amendment redirecting the funds from the sale of the plates away from the plate’s sponsor, Planned Parenthood, to a dormant state fund created in 2008 to assist women with unplanned pregnancies.
However in a conference committee on Saturday, the General Assembly restored the funding back to Planned Parenthood.
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Planned Parenthood sought a plate with an abortion-rights slogan, and the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union promised it would sue the state on free-speech grounds if the Assembly didn’t oblige.
The courts have made it clear that once a state starts down the road of allowing motorists to express themselves on their license plates, it must do so in an even-handed way, said Kent Willis, executive director of the Virginia ACLU.
“Specialty plates are a public forum,” Willis said, “and the government can’t discriminate on the basis of viewpoint in a public forum.”
Last year the General Assembly approved the production of “Choose Life” license plates, of which 1,899 have been sold and $13,485 has been collected for crisis pregnancy centers run by Heartbeat International. Crisis pregnancy centers in Virginia and elsewhere have a long record of providing misleading information to women about birth control, condoms, abortion and pregnancy.
“Since the commonwealth had provided a forum for one side of the choice debate last year, we felt it was duty-bound to give equal treatment to the pro-choice position,” [Del. Bob Brink (D-48th), plate sponsor] said.
“Planned Parenthood is a vital part of the health-care safety net for women across Virginia – securing this license plate on their behalf is more than a symbolic victory,” Brink said.
The bill is now in the hands of Gov. Bob McDonnell who had 30 days to sign or veto it.
The Pilot reports:
Stacey Johnson, a McDonnell spokeswoman, gave an ambiguous response when asked if the governor would sign the bill.
“Virginia has hundreds of specialty license plates that citizens can order,” she said by e-mail. “The governor believes they all should be treated the same by the state. He opposes state funding for abortion services. He will review the final legislation with these principles in mind.”
Only two other states currently offer pro-choice license plates, Pennsylvania and Montana, while Hawaii offers a decal. Twenty-four states offer some version of the “Choose Life” plate. In Virginia, specialty license plates are a means of raising money for different non-profit groups. After the first 1,000 specialty license plates are sold $15 of every $25 goes to the plate sponsor.
Planned Parenthood of Virginia has said they will use the funds to provide services to low-income women, men, and youth seeking basic reproductive and sexual health care, such as family planning and screening for sexually transmitted infections.