March 1, 2001
volume 12, no. 60

Pennsylvania Legislator Promotes Choose Life License Plate

    HARRISBURG, PA (AP from - A freshman state representative has managed to wrap two political hot potatoes into his first bill, which would create a new specialty license plate with a pro-life message.

    Abortion is always controversial, but the proliferation of "specialty fund" license plates in Pennsylvania - which support nonprofit organizations dedicated to specific causes - is also a sticky issue in Harrisburg.

    The new plate proposed by Jeff Coleman, a 25-year-old Republican from Armstrong County, would cost motorists an extra $35, with $15 going to adoption agencies that "do not promote abortion as an alternative." The state would keep the other $20 to defray costs.

    Four other specialty fund tags are in production right now, but no one is quibbling with them. One, which depicts a river otter, benefits wildlife conservation programs, while another shows a locomotive and helps fund heritage projects. The popular tiger plate supports zoos, and the Drug Awareness and Resistance Education, or DARE, tag promotes anti-drug initiatives.

    Since 1993, when the first wildlife conservation plate depicted the saw-whet owl, motorists have purchased nearly a half-million specialty tags. The hottest seller is the tiger plate, which is on about 137,000 vehicles.

    Coleman's plate plan, however, is a bit different, because it places the state in the middle of the divisive abortion debate.

    It does so by playing on the former "You've Got a Friend in Pennsylvania" slogan with a slight variation: "A Friend for Life in Pennsylvania." The plate also would show a pair of baby feet between the number and letter codes.

    The proposal is supported by the House's pro-life caucus, but has drawn criticism from other lawmakers and pro-abortion organizations.

    A spokesman for pro-abortion Gov. Tom Ridge - who is the father of two adopted children - said the governor would not embrace the idea because he thinks the state has enough specialty plates already.

    Ridge has shot down bills that would have created dozens of new specialty plates, including those benefiting causes as diverse as youth hunter education, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and submarine veterans.

    Coleman's legislation has confused directors of some state-licensed adoption agencies because it does not specify what an agency would have to do to qualify for a cut of the funds. There are about 70 such agencies in Pennsylvania, most of which are nonprofit.

    "I think it's great to get more people to consider adoption, but I want to know if funds would go to all licensed nonprofit agencies and not just those designated as pro-life," said Maxine Chalker, director of Adoptions From the Heart, based in Montgomery County. Chalker said her agency can discuss abortion with clients if they have questions, but adds that most adoption agencies are more interested in helping find good homes for babies than in facilitating abortions.

    Coleman said his bill, which has been referred to the House's transportation committee, is simply an attempt to reduce the number of abortions in Pennsylvania by promoting adoption services. "As a freshman legislator and a young person, I don't want to spend all of my time on a long-term solution" to the abortion issue, said Coleman.

    "I thought this would be a great way to make adoptions a more viable option for women," said Coleman, who attended Liberty University. He said his plate "tones down the rhetoric" compared to a similar pro-life plate available in Florida, which says "Choose Life."

    Florida, however, is being sued over the plates by a pro-abortion group, which claims the message violates constitutional guarantees of the separation of church and state. Louisiana also wants to put "Choose Life" plates on cars, but a judge there has ordered the state to wait until First Amendment issues can be examined. Mississippi is also mulling over a pro-life plate.

    Coleman's bill drew a quick response from the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League of Pennsylvania, which questioned whether the proposal violates free speech laws, because the state would be sanctioning one viewpoint at the expense of another.

    One of Coleman's Republican colleagues said the subject is simply too sensitive to stick on a license plate. "Pro-choice, pro-life, anti-guns, gay rights - I just don't think the state should get into producing official plates with political messages on them," said state Rep. Steven R. Nickol of York County.

March 1, 2001
volume 12, no. 60
Pro Life News
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