Lawsuit Filed Challenging Oklahoma's "Choose Life" License Plate Legislation

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Tulsa, OK

Six Oklahoma motorists and an Oklahoma religious organization have filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Oklahoma statutes regulating special license plates. In Oklahoma, motorists are able to obtain license plates proclaiming that they "Choose Life" to express their anti-abortion views, but are unable to obtain license plates proclaiming that they are "Pro-Choice" or "Pro-Family Planning." This results from a statutory scheme that allows the Oklahoma Legislature to control which viewpoints can be expressed on special license plates. The lawsuit alleges that by denying Oklahoma’s pro-choice motorists the opportunity to express their views on controversial reproductive rights issues—while at the same time granting anti-choice motorists the opportunity to express contrary views—the statutory scheme discriminates against one group of motorists and violates their right to free speech, due process and equal protection of the law.

Oklahoma’s "Choose Life" legislation also mandates that proceeds from the sale of "Choose Life" plates be deposited into a "Choose Life Assistance Program Revolving Fund." Qualifying nonprofit organizations that provide counseling to pregnant women committed to placing their children up for adoption may apply for grants from the Fund. But the law prevents otherwise eligible organizations from receiving grants if they are also "involved or associated with abortion activities, including counseling for or referrals to abortion clinics, providing medical abortion-related procedures, or pro-abortion advertising." Thus, organizations like the Plaintiff Oklahoma Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice that support freedom of choice among all available reproductive options—including adoption and abortion—are ineligible for grants. The lawsuit alleges that this funding restriction violates certain organizations’ rights to freedom of speech and equal protection of the law.

Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, South Carolina and Tennessee have enacted similar legislation to create "Choose Life" license plates and are using the proceeds to help fund the distribution of biased medical and anti-choice information. In response to constitutional challenges raised by plaintiffs seeking to purchase "Pro-Choice" or "Pro-Family Planning" plates, a federal judge in Louisiana halted production of all special license plates. And a federal judge in South Carolina halted production of the state’s "Choose Life" plates. Challenges to "Choose Life" legislation are pending in several other states.

"By allowing anti-abortion motorists but not pro-family planning motorists to express their views on their license plates, the Oklahoma Legislature is discriminating against its own citizens and trampling on the most basic first amendment protections," said Priscilla Smith, director of the Domestic Legal Program of the Center for Reproductive Rights. "The Plaintiffs in this case ask no more than that they and their fellow motorists be treated equally and have their own viewpoints respected."

Plaintiffs in Hill v. Kemp include Harold E. Hill, Margaret R. and William F. McCright, John J. McQueen, Rita J. Moskowitz, Barbara Santee, and Oklahoma Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Inc. Plaintiffs are represented by Molly S. Boast, Suzanne M. Grosso, and Cameron L. Schroeder of the firm Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, Martha M. Hardwick of the Hardwick Law Office, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Priscilla Smith of the Center for Reproductive Rights.