State officials agreed not to distribute the proceeds from Oklahoma's "Choose Life" specialty license plates to anti-choice pregnancy counseling centers until July 1, 2005. The agreement was reached in connection with a lawsuit brought by a religious organization, Oklahoma Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice Education Fund, Inc., and six Oklahoma motorists challenging the constitutionality of legislation regulating those plates.
Less than two weeks ago, the plaintiffs moved for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction after learning that state officials were contemplating distributing the proceeds from the specialty plates to anti-choice pregnancy counseling centers. Friday, Judge Claire V. Eagan of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma signed an order approving the agreed upon terms.
The Center for Reproductive Rights, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP and the Hardwick Law Office filed the lawsuit earlier this year on behalf of the plaintiffs, arguing that the legislation violated their right to free speech.
In 2003, the Oklahoma Legislature authorized the sale of specialty license plates expressing a "choose life" viewpoint, but then refused to issue plates expressing a contrary "pro-choice" viewpoint. Proceeds from these license plates are currently required to be distributed to organizations that counsel women to bring their pregnancies to term, but the money is prohibited from going to groups - such as the plaintiff Oklahoma Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice Education Fund, Inc. - that offer counseling on a full range of pregnancy options, including abortion and adoption.
"The plaintiffs' case is very simple. They are asking only that they be given the same opportunities to express their views as other Oklahomans. This agreement ensures that the plaintiffs' rights will be protected until the court is able to consider the arguments of both sides," said Suzanne Grosso, attorney from Debevoise & Plimpton LLP and lead counsel in the case.
"This legislation shows just how far the anti-choice movement will go to muzzle anyone who believes a woman has a right to make her own decision about her pregnancy," said Priscilla Smith, attorney from the Center for Reproductive Rights and co-counsel in the case. "Anti-choice lawmakers have passed these offensive laws across the country. They are a slap in the face to their own citizens."
The plaintiffs in Hill v. Kemp include Harold E. Hill, Margaret R. and William F. McCright, John J. McQueen, Rita J. Moskowitz, Barbara Santee, and the Oklahoma Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice Education Fund, Inc. They are represented by Molly S. Boast, Suzanne M. Grosso, and Cameron L. Schroeder of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, Martha M. Hardwick of the Hardwick Law Office, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Priscilla Smith of the Center for Reproductive Rights.