ACLU and Planned Parenthood Ask Tennessee Court to Block Anti-Abortion License Plate

Affiliate: ACLU of Tennessee
November 6, 2003 12:00 am

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NASHVILLE – The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood Federation of America filed a lawsuit today to stop Tennessee officials from sponsoring an anti-abortion-rights specialty license plate, saying the program discriminates against opposing viewpoints.

“”If the state held a town-hall meeting tomorrow to discuss the posting of the Ten Commandments, it couldn’t open the floor only to those supporting the religious displays,”” said Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director of the ACLU of Tennessee. “”Likewise, authorizing only an anti-choice specialty plate discriminates against people with an opposing point of view. Once the state allows the motorist to place a political slogan on license plates, it may not offer that opportunity to only one side of the political debate.””

The law in question makes a “”Choose Life”” license plate available to motorists for an annual fee of $35 dollars over and above the basic costs of registering a car in the state. Fifty percent of all funds raised, after expenses, go to a private anti-choice organization called New Life Resources, which must redirect much of the proceeds to specific providers of adoption services in Tennessee.

The legislature tabled an amendment that would have authorized a “”Pro Choice”” specialty plate.

“”Motorists are free to make direct contributions to organizations of their own choosing,”” said Jeff Teague, President of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, Inc. “”But the state cannot set up a scheme that funnels money to organizations that represent only one side of a political debate.””

The lawsuit challenges not only the statute authorizing the “”Choose Life”” plates but also the legislature’s general policy and practice of approving specialty license plates. According to the lawsuit, that policy discriminates against those with viewpoints that the General Assembly does not condone.

Plaintiffs in the case include the ACLU of Tennessee, Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, Inc., and three individuals. Lawyers on the case include Carrie Flaxman of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America; Julie Sternberg of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project; George Barrett and Ted Carey of Barrett, Johnston, & Parsley, and Susan L. Kay, ACLU of Tennessee Legal Committee Chair.

The case, ACLU of Tennessee v. Bredesen, #03-1046, was filed today in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville Division.

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