ACLU challenges North Carolina pro-life license plates

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF) [advocacy website] on Thursday filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] in the federal district court for the Eastern District of North Carolina challenging a North Carolina state law authorizing the use of pro-life license plates as a violation of the First Amendment [text]. In June, the North Carolina General Assembly [official website] passed a bill [HB 289 materials] authorizing the issuance of "Choose Life" license plates, but failed to authorize the use of license plates stating, "Trust Women. Respect Choice," or "Respect Choice," which would indicate advocacy of reproductive rights. The ACLU-NCLF alleges that allowing pro-life proponents to express their views through the use of license plates while denying the same right to pro-choice proponents is discriminatory and in violation of the First Amendment. Katherine Lewis Parker, the Legal Director of the ACLU-NCLF, indicated that the law is being challenged because of its inhibitions on freedom of speech [statement] and not because of the abortion position advocated by the license plates, stating:

This is a basic issue of freedom of speech and fairness. It is a fundamental tenet of the First Amendment that the State cannot use its authority to promote one side of a debate while denying the same opportunity to the other side. Anyone who supports freedom of speech should agree with this stance, regardless of one's position on abortion. Our position would be the same if the State had authorized a pro-choice license plate but not an anti-choice alternative. In that situation, the ACLU-NCLF would be suing on behalf of anti-choice drivers under the exact same theory of viewpoint discrimination.
The complaint asks the court declare the current law unconstitutional and to order the state to stop issuing the pro-life license plates without authorizing and issuing a pro-choice plate.

In addition to the pro-life license plate law, the North Carolina General Assembly also passed legislation [HB 854 materials] in June that would require a 24-hour waiting period before receiving an abortion [JURIST news archive]. The "Woman's Right to Know Act" also requires women seeking an abortion to view an ultrasound of the fetus prior to the procedure. North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue [official website] vetoed [JURIST report] the legislation calling it "a dangerous intrusion into the confidential relationship that exists between women and their doctors." In July, however, both the House and Senate [JURIST reports] voted to override the veto, allowing the legislation to become North Carolina law. Opponents of the law have called it "draconian" and have stated that women seeking abortions will face dramatic changes once the law takes effect, while supporters contend that the new law will give women the opportunity to "know all the facts" about abortion.

 

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