License Plates For Life

Prolife Profile

Can an automobile license plate save lives and help build families? Yes — especially if the car bearing it has a captive audience thanks to a traffic jam.

Just ask Charles and Elizabeth Rex, co-founders and directors of the Children First Foundation. Their nonprofit organization is the official sponsor of the Choose Life license plate in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. It's also part of a fast-growing effort to get Choose Life plates approved — and, thus, offered to car owners — in all 50 states.

Choose Life plates first hit the road in Florida in August 2000. Now more than 40,000 toodle along the Sunshine's State's roads, campaigning for life and raising approximately $2.2 million to promote and support adoption in Florida. And the plates have been approved in 11 other states: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee.

The Rexes worked for more than a year and a half to get the Connecticut plate approved and on the road in September 2003, making it the first Choose Life plate in the Northeast. This also carries Children First's website address, www.Fund-Adoption. org.

“It is perfect,” Elizabeth Rex says. “The Children First Foundation wants to promote and support adoption as a mature, intelligent, loving and life-giving choice for an unwanted pregnancy or newborn. It's a choice that deserves broader public understanding, appreciation and funding. Our plate in Connecticut does just that.”

The history of the Children First Foundation flowed from the Rexes’ own story. Married when both were 40, the couple was eager to have children but had trouble conceiving. After four years of trying, they decided to look into adoption. A few months later Elizabeth, at 45, unexpectedly became pregnant and gave birth to their first son.

“We were thrilled,” says Charles, a violinist with the New York Philharmonic. “We immediately began looking into adoption again.”

Over the next five years, the Rexes adopted a baby boy in 1996 and a baby girl in 1999. Both adoptions put happy endings on two difficult crisis pregnancies. The Rexes met the birth parents in both cases and were deeply moved by their mature and courageous decisions to put the lives and well-being of their babies first. “Our family will be forever grateful to them,” Elizabeth says. “They gave us and our children the greatest gift of all — the gift of life.”

In the past, the Rexes had often volunteered their time and talent by organizing benefit recitals to help raise money for one of their favorite charities, a New York City crisis-pregnancy center called Expectant Mother Care. After adopting, they looked into another way to actively raise funds for lifesaving work. So it was that the Children First Foundation was born on Good Friday in 2000.

The foundation really took shape when Elizabeth read about Florida's Choose Life effort on the front page of the Register during the spring of 2001.

“It was a picture of a cute license plate that had raised $300,000 for crisis-pregnancy centers,” Elizabeth recalls. “I immediately called [the] newspaper for more information and the rest, as they say, is history.”

Father Peter West, a priest associate with Priests for Life, sees multiple benefits from the license-plate program. “I hope [the Choose Life plates] will raise awareness of adoption as a loving alternative to abortion,” he says. “Adoption places a child with a loving family. I think it's a choice that both pro-life and pro-choice people can agree on.”

In Connecticut, the Choose Life plate has already been purchased by more than 100 members of the Children First Foundation, including Colleen Johnstone, who is a board member of Carolyn's Place, a pregnancy-resource center in Waterbury, Conn.

“It's a great way to get the message out,” she says. “You're stuck in traffic and there, on a license plate in front of you, is a happy message with two smiling children. The more people see it, the more people will want to buy it.”

That very scene helped save a baby in Florida, Amerling says. A woman wondering what to do about her unexpected pregnancy was following a car bearing the Choose Life plate with the children's smiling faces. The woman reported that the plate “spoke” to her so well that she decided to have her baby. To bring the message to others, she purchased a Choose Life plate for her own car.

The Children First Foundation has hit a few bumps in the road while trying to get its Choose Life plate approved in New York and New Jersey. In fact, the foundation is now convinced that pro-life/pro-adoption message is being unlawfully discriminated against in New Jersey. For that reason it has recently obtained the legal counsel of the Alliance Defense Fund, which is preparing a federal lawsuit to resolve the matter.

“With the Alliance Defense Fund defending our civil rights and with the help and support of the Children First Foundation's many generous and patient members,” Rex says, “Children First is confident that its Choose Life plate will soon be available for purchase in New Jersey and ultimately in New York as well.”

Once approved there, it won't be long before many thousands of drivers in the area encounter two smiling faces and those words that are so hard to argue with: Choose life. And so it will be, the Rexes hope and pray, that many will do just that.

Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.