The XX Factor

Pro- and Anti-Choice License Plates May Be Coming to Two New States

A “Choose Life” plate from Mississippi.

Jerry “Woody” / Flickr

Two new states are considering bringing abortion politics onto their license plates, spurring debate over whether state governments should subsidize what amounts to advertising materials for pro-choice and anti-abortion groups. In Nebraska on Tuesday, state senators voted 37- 7 to advance a bill that would establish “Choose Life” license plates in the state. In California, state senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, a Democrat from Santa Barbara, has proposed a bill that would require the state to offer “California Trusts Women” plates.

If the California bill passes, it would join Virginia as one of the rare states that offer pro-choice license plates. There are currently 29 states that offer anti-abortion “Choose Life” plates, in addition to Washington, D.C. These are the plates that look, from a short distance away, like they’re supporting universal pre-K or something, with their crayon scribbles and crude drawing of two smiling kids.

The plates don’t usually generate money for education or contraception access, two things proven to reduce abortion rates, though—15 states with “Choose Life” plates funnel the extra fees required to buy them into anti-choice activist organizations or crisis pregnancy centers. The latter institutions trick women into thinking they’re neutral spaces or abortion providers, only to present misinformation to dissuade women from seeking abortion care elsewhere. The Nebraska bill must pass through two more votes, and opponents have said they’re ready to filibuster to block it. But if it goes through, it will establish the rare “Choose Life” license plate that actually raises money for something that helps women: the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

Legislators advocating against the bill say anti-abortion advocates should get their special license plate another way: by collecting 250 signatures and prepaid orders from people who want the plate. That’s how the Corn Grower’s Association got its amber waves of grain on a license plate—why should the choose-lifers get a state law for their message? Apparently, they haven’t been able to convince 250 people to put their abortion politics on their bumpers. The Associated Press reports that the chairman of the Nebraska chapter of the “Choose Life” license plate organization claims that he’s been working on getting support for the plate for the last decade, but couldn’t get 250 signatures. He’s confident that hundreds of people will come on board if the state law passes, though.

To get the proposed California plate on cars, advocates will need to get 7,500 California drivers to order “California Trusts Women” plates even if the bill passes. The fees generated by the specialty license plate would go toward the state’s Family Planning, Access, Care, and Treatment program, which covers reproductive health services for low-income women.