The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that "Choose Life" license plates state lawmakers approved in 2011 are constitutional, reversing a decision the same court made two years ago.
After the court found in 2014 that the plates represented "viewpoint discrimination" because North Carolina doesn't offer similar plates supporting abortion rights, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a new hearing last year based on its ruling in a Texas license plate case. In that case, the high court ruled that Texas could refuse to issue plates bearing the Confederate battle flag without violating anyone's free-speech rights.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued the state over the "Choose Life" plates shortly after they were approved, and a federal judge blocked them from ever being issued.
"It’s very disappointing that North Carolina can now deny drivers on one side of this contentious issue an equal ability to express their views," Sarah Preston, acting executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina, said in a statement Thursday. "Regardless of the court’s ruling, the General Assembly should finally do the right thing and allow citizens on both sides of this controversial issue to purchase specialty license plates supporting their views."
A portion of the proceeds from sales of the plates will be earmarked for a nonprofit that supports crisis pregnancy centers. The 2011 law prohibits money from the plates from going to any group that promotes abortion.
Lawmakers defeated various amendments to the legislation that created the "Choose Life" plate that would have also authorized "Trust Women. Respect Choice" or "Respect Choice" plates.
"This decision now creates a direct funding stream for the state’s network of so-called crisis pregnancy centers. These centers have an anti-abortion agenda and systematically give women biased, misleading and frequently medically-inaccurate information about pregnancy and abortion in an effort to coerce a woman’s deeply personal decision regarding her own pregnancy and health," Melissa Reed, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said in a statement. "Women deserve non-judgmental, medically accurate and non-directive counseling when it comes to their personal and private health care decisions."
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