Raleigh, N.C. — The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation filed suit Thursday to get the state to produce a specialty license plate that supports abortion rights.
State lawmakers in June passed a bill that authorized the issuance of a “Choose Life” license plate. Six amendments to the bill that would have allowed for another plate that stated “Trust Women. Respect Choice” or simply “Respect Choice” were defeated.
“This is a basic issue of freedom of speech and fairness. It is a fundamental tenet of the First Amendment that the state cannot use its authority to promote one side of a debate while denying the same opportunity to the other side," Katherine Lewis Parker, state legal director of the ACLU, said in a statement.
"Anyone who supports freedom of speech should agree with this stance, regardless of one’s position on abortion," Parker said. "Our position would be the same if the state had authorized a pro-choice license plate but not an anti-choice alternative."
The federal lawsuit is seeking a court order declaring that the lawmakers' actions regarding the license plates constitutes viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment and requiring the state to stop developing and issuing the “Choose Life” license plate without authorizing a countervailing pro-choice plate.
“If anti-choice drivers are permitted to express their views on their license plates, people like me should be able to express our view that women deserve full reproductive freedom,” Sue Holliday, a certified nurse midwife, said in a statement.
Holliday is one of four abortion rights supporters being represented by the ACLU in the suit.
In a similar lawsuit in South Carolina in 2004, the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled the state could not discriminate between viewpoints on specialty license plates.
The North Carolina Attorney General's Office is reviewing the ACLU lawsuit, a spokeswoman said Thursday.