Panel allows anti-abortion license plate - reluctantly
PHOENIX - Abortion foes will soon be able to advertise their views on their state-issued license plates.
Without dissent, the Arizona License Plate Commission on Tuesday approved the request of anti-abortion groups to get their own special state plate, one with the message ''Choose Life.''
Officials of the state Department of Transportation said they could be available within two months.
Despite the unanimous vote, the move was not really voluntary: A federal appeals court last year rejected the commission's contention that the message was improper for a state-issued license plate, ordering the panel to honor the request. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to disturb that ruling.
But Tuesday's action could be the last time the commission acts.
Lela Steffey, a member of the panel, said that appellate court ruling undermines the ability of commissioners to decide what are and what are not appropriate ideas for license plates. Steffey, a former state lawmaker from Mesa, said the Legislature should abolish the commission before any other group demands its own plate - and its own message.
Generally speaking, commission-authorized plates - as opposed to ones created by the Legislature like for the universities, child abuse funding and benefiting families of injured veterans - are available only to members of the sponsoring organization. But Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, one of the members of the Arizona Life Coalition, said the group will open its membership to anyone who wants those plates.
Tuesday's action comes nine years after the coalition first requested the plates.
Steffey said at the time she is personally sympathetic with the cause. She voted against the request, though, saying once an anti-abortion message becomes acceptable, that means the panel would also have to grant requests for plates with contrary messages.
But appellate Judge Richard Tallman, writing the 9th Circuit ruling, said once the Legislature empowered the commission to issue special license plates, that panel was not free to decide which were acceptable.
Herrod said the legal fight to get the plates was worth it.
"The 'Choose Life' message affirms the value of every human life,'' she said. Herrod said that message will "absolutely have a positive impact'' on those who see the plates.
Aside from allowing motorists to publicize their views, the arrangement also has financial benefits. Out of the additional $25 the state charges for special plates, $17 goes to the sponsoring organization.
"Proceeds from these licenses will support basically providing alternatives to abortion and promoting life,'' Herrod said. She predicted her organization will be able to sell "thousands'' of the plates.
The plates will feature a drawing of a young boy and a young girl in a two-inch box on the left side, with the words "Choose Life'' along the bottom, where regular plates now have the motto of "Grand Canyon State.''
Backers actually have one more procedural hurdle to overcome before the state actually begins producing the plates. They have to come up with $32,000 in cash or at least 200 applications for the special plates, each with the $25 extra fee.