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Judge Rules North Carolina Can’t Sell “Choose Life” License Plates Without Offering Pro-Choice Option

Jessica Mason Pieklo

A federal judge ruled the state's "choose life" license plates violate the First Amendment since there is no option in support of abortion rights.

If North Carolina wants to bring the abortion debate to state license plates, it must do so even-handedly a federal judge ruled.

In 2011, the state approved 80 specialty plates, including a “Choose Life” plate. Each “Choose Life” plate cost $25, of which $15 was to go to the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, an association of crisis pregnancy centers. The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF) sued to block the anti-abortion plates, arguing they violated the First Amendment because the state offered no similar plates for abortion-rights supporters and therefore was unlawfully promoting one political view over another. The court agreed.

“This court concludes … that 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,” Judge James Fox said in his ruling.

The ACLU-NCLF celebrated the ruling. “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 in a statement. “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.”

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Officials for the state said they will likely appeal the ruling.

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