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ACLU targets ‘Choose Life’ license plates

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — With more than 100 specialty license plates in the state, new designs brought before the Louisiana Legislature don't grab much attention.

As a result, civil-rights attorneys and women's reproductive rights advocates only recently learned about new anti-abortion "Choose Life" license plates that won approval from state lawmakers and are headed for the streets.

"We missed this one, because we saw the title and said: 'Oh, more stupid license plate legislation,' " says Joe Cook, director of the Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU is now considering legal action to remove lawmakers' authority to approve specialty license plates altogether.

"If they're going to allow this kind of political message on a state-sanctioned license plate, then they're going to have to allow for KKK and Gay Pride plates and all kinds of messages people may want," Cook said. "This license plate entangles the state with religion."

The sponsor of the 1999 bill creating the new plate, state Rep. Shirley Bowler, said opponents should have noticed "Choose Life" in the bill's title.

She does not disagree with Cook that any group should be allowed to have a specialty plate — if they can get the votes.

"There are a lot of prestige plates that I don't think anybody would suggest Louisiana is 100 percent behind," Bowler said. "They're there to permit people who have common bond to exercise it.

"The black bear plate is fine, but that's an environmentalists versus landowners issue, and you can't tell me that's not political. If we can save black bears, we can save babies."

No other state has an abortion issue license plate on the road, although several have had proposals.

In Florida, Choose Life plates were approved, but a pending lawsuit is blocking motorists from obtaining them. Opponents claim the plates are a state-sanctioned political statement against abortion; supporters say they are only meant to promote adoption.

At least 150 people in Louisiana have already ordered the Choose Life plates, which depict a baby wrapped in a blanket carried by a pelican, the state bird. A minimum of 100 orders are required to start a run.

The plates costs $25 in addition to registration fees, and the money generally goes to support the organizations depicted. The Choose Life fees go to organizations that provide counseling for expectant mothers.

Bowler sponsored the Choose Life plate bill at the request of the American Family Association, a conservative Christian group based in Tupelo, Miss.

If the ACLU attempts to block the plate, American Family has a team of constitutional lawyers prepared to intervene, said spokesman Allen Wildmon.