RALEIGH – Want to announce to fellow drivers that you’re a “Harley Owner,” remind them to “Save the Sea Turtles,” proclaim your love for “Shag Dancing,” or show your support for one of more than 120 other causes on your North Carolina license plate? No problem. Just don’t ask to display your pro-life stance on a specialty tag. Despite at least five legislative attempts to get a “Choose Life” tag, the Tar Heel state remains one of only two Southern states east of Texas that does not offer such a plate.
Rep. Mitch Gillespie (R-McDowell) and a group of fellow lawmakers hope to change that this year with House Bill 168 filed Tuesday as more than 100 supporters gathered for a “Why Not NC?” Rally for the Choose Life Plate – a simple innovation that has raised more than $10 million to help pregnancy care centers, maternity homes and adoption agencies across some 19 states where the tags are already being sold. Three more states have approved Choose Life with bills being considered in another nine.
“With all the hundreds of plates approved from ‘Save the Dolphin’ to ‘In God We Trust’ why North Carolina leaders allow a small vocal minority to exert their influence I’ll never know,” said Gillespie who promised to continue to push the bill, a companion (SB 210) to which was also filed Tuesday in the State Senate by Sen. Austin Allran (R-Catawba). Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, opposes the measure.
Gillespie said this week that his motivation in filing the bill is that he wants to help the state’s pregnancy centers. A percentage of money raised from the sale of the tags ($15 of the extra $25 charged to buyers who choose the specialty plate) would go to the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship (CPCF) to be distributed to nongovernmental, not-for-profit agencies that offer free pregnancy services and do not provide or promote abortion.
“Pregnancy care centers offer women and men facing unexpected pregnancies the practical help, emotional support, and information about their pregnancy options which empower them to make positive life choices,” said Bobbie Meyer, executive director of the Pregnancy Resource Center in Charlotte and president of the CPCF board. At the rally, he said the centers’ free services include pregnancy testing, childbirth and parenting classes, referrals to healthcare and support services, peer counseling, and in some cases, limited medical services like ultrasounds.
“The North Carolina courts have ruled that ‘the encouragement of childbirth is a legitimate governmental objective,'” pointed out Barbara Holt, president of N.C. Right to Life. “The Choose Life Special Registration Plate fits perfectly with that objective. So I ask the Legislature, why won’t you pass the plate?”
Last session’s Choose Life bill cleared the House Transportation Committee but never made it to the floor for a vote, a scenario that Gillespie anticipates will repeat itself this year unless constituents press Legislative leaders to change their minds.
Eva Ritchey, president of North Carolina Pro-Life Democrats, was also at the rally Tuesday, challenging those leaders to see the wisdom in the bill.
“Especially in these tough economic times, it is hard to understand why my party is opposing a bill that would help women and children at no taxpayer expense,” she said. “It is sad that we have to go to Raleigh and beg when no one else applying for a specialty plate has had to beg.”
To shed light on the need that the Choose Life tags would help meet, Tabitha Vinson and Tara Schwab shared their stories of how they were helped by a pregnancy care center in North Carolina. Others at Tuesday’s rally included Rep. Paul Stam (House Minority Leader), the Rev. Msgr. Michael Clay, Diane Hardee, executive director of Eastern Pregnancy Information Center and Barbara Stevenson, state director of CPCF, as well as other pro-life leaders.
Gillespie suggests that supporters of the Choose Life tag take action by contacting Speaker of the House Rep. Joe Hackney at (919) 733-3451 and Rep. Bill Owens (D-Pasquotank) at (919) 733-0010. Owens is chairman of the Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House, where the bill now awaits action.
He said that if the bill is not passed this session, he expects a law suit to be filed against the state.
If the bill is passed, at least 300 applications for “Choose Life” plates must be received by the Division of Motor Vehicles before they can begin production of the tag. To find out more about the national Choose Life tag effort, log on to www.choose-life.org. To see the status of the effort in each state and what each state’s tag looks like, click on “other states” at the bottom of the site.