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June 10 was the 10th anniversary of the ‘Choose Life’ license plates.
BY MARGE FENELONREGISTER CORRESPONDENT
OCALA, Fla. — Randy Harris sat in
his car during an Ocala, Fla., traffic jam and noticed a specialty license
plate on the car in front of his. It promoted a wildlife conservation cause.
The idea that popped into Harris’
head at that point would eventually become a national campaign to convince
pregnant women considering abortion to choose adoption instead.
“I was familiar with this cause’s
efforts to raise funds,” said Harris, founder and president of Choose Life,
Inc. “I thought that those of us who are pro-life could be using this same
means to help women with resources that would allow them to choose adoption
over abortion. So, I created a ‘Choose Life’ license plate, and it took off
Harris knew that if his efforts were
successful in his home state of Florida, he could assist other pro-life
volunteers to gain approval in their states.
That was in 1996. Little did he know
that it would take several grueling years to achieve that goal.
Enlisting the help of two colleagues
and fellow Floridians Jim Steel and Russ Amerling, Harris formed Choose Life,
Inc., an all-volunteer nonprofit organization that helps citizens create and
distribute specialty license plates promoting adoption as an alternative to
The effort was launched in February
1997. A month later, Choose Life had accumulated the $30,000 application fee
and 14,500 signatures (10,000 were necessary to have a specialty license plate
approved by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles). The
bill was passed with overwhelming majorities in both the state House and
Senate, but former Gov. Lawton Chiles vetoed it.
The veto drew national media
attention — and caught the attention of pro-life volunteers in 35 other states
looking for resources and advice on how to get “Choose Life” tags approved.
This transformed the cause into a national movement.
The attention renewed the enthusiasm
of the Choose Life, Inc. staff, who pushed to have the bill resubmitted. It
passed during the last 15 minutes of the Senate’s session by one vote. In June
1999, Gov. Jeb Bush signed it into law. Since then, more than $6.3 million has
been raised, and more than 300,000 Choose Life plates have been issued in the
state of Florida.
Twenty-four states have approved a
“Choose Life” license plate. Virginia released its plate July 1, making it the
21st state to have one available; Arizona’s went on sale in May. Missouri’s
plate should come out shortly, but New Mexico and North Dakota’s plates are not
yet ready for release.
Now, 10 years after the first pro-life
license plate was approved for production, groups are working toward approval
in 14 other states.
“This is a simple way that anybody
can help the cause with a minimum of effort,” said Amerling, Choose Life,
Inc.’s publicity coordinator. In Florida, “Choose Life” license plates cost $22
annually, $20 of which goes directly to helping women with unintended
“That’s just $1.38 a day,” Amerling
added. “And for that, you have a traveling billboard that will urge people to
choose adoption over abortion.”
The money raised goes to safe
havens, pregnancy-help centers and other agencies that provide screening,
counseling, financial support and housing.
“Many of these women are not able to
find work toward the end of their pregnancy,” said Debbie Ferguson, executive
director of Women’s Pregnancy Center in Ocala. “With the money from the ‘Choose
Life’ license plates, we’re able to help them so that they’re in a position to
carry the child to term and offer it up for adoption. We also help them make
plans for after the baby is born, since they can’t work for the first few weeks
after the birth.”
In 2008, the center received $38,000
from the plates, 70% of which went directly to pregnant women placing their
babies for adoption and 30% of which went to education, literature and
advertising. During the same year, Women’s Pregnancy Center assisted four women
in placing their babies for adoption.
“If we didn’t receive those funds,”
Ferguson said, “we wouldn’t be able to help birth moms wanting to choose
adoption over abortion. Some of these women wouldn’t have a place to live, a
way to receive medical attention or pay their bills.”
Kevin Rizzo, a freelance writer in
Ocala, says he’s had the plate on his car for at least five years. He and his
wife, Becky, adopted a baby girl from China eight years ago.
“What sold me is that so much of the
money for the plates actually goes to the ministry,” he said. “Once a year you
get that bill, and, sure, it’s an extra expense. But to me, it’s worth it. It’s
a worthy cause and a great way to advertise it.”
Looking to the Future
Efforts in many states have met with
lawsuits from National Organization of Women, Planned Parenthood, NARAL
Pro-Choice America, National Center for Reproductive Rights and the American
Civil Liberties Union. The details of the cases vary, and complaints have cited
such infractions as discrimination, partisanship and unlawful promotion of
Elizabeth Rex heads efforts to gain
approval of the plates in New York and New Jersey. She and her husband, Charles, founded The Children First Foundation,
the cause’s nonprofit organization (which was also the sponsor of the approved license plate in Connecticut).
“What people need to understand is that those of us who support adoption are really both pro-life and pro-choice, because the adoption option respects a woman’s right to choose as well as the child’s right to life," she said. "It is becoming increasingly clear in our country that ‘choice’ is not synonymous with only one choice, because adoption is a good choice that every American can support.”
Harris has hopes for great strides
in the next 10 years.
“Ultimately, I’d like to see every
state in the nation with a ‘Choose Life’ license plate,” he said. “I’d like to
see every need of every woman in the decision-making process met. That’s
Marge Fenelon writes