‘Pro-Choice’ License Plates in Virginia

A potential storm is brewing over Planned Parenthood’s push for “pro-choice” license plates in Virginia (Planned Parenthood describes the “Choose Life” plates already available in the Commonwealth as “anti-choice,” but that’s a debate for another day). Governor McConnell and Attorney General Cuccinelli shouldn’t get themselves tied up in knots about whether to allow these plates. Since the Commonwealth has been printing “Choose Life” plates for the last year or two, it is an easy call to allow them for the other side of the debate. Any other decision would run afoul of the First Amendment’s prohibition on viewpoint discrimination. Nor should pro-lifers be afraid of the debate. The AP story reporting on the controversy says that PP’s efforts in other states have run into a problem of consumer demand. Several states are considering cancelling their approved pro-choice plates for lack of orders.

It doesn’t appear from the story, however, that the state GOP is resisting the plates because of their message. The only debated question is what to do with the proceeds from the sale. Apparently, Virginia allows some of the proceeds to go to non-profit groups, which strikes me as an invitation to these sorts of controversies. The bills sponsoring the Planned Parenthood plates would permit some portion of the funds to go into Planned Parenthoods coffers, apparently without restriction. I can’t see any First Amendment problem with the State permitting the sales of the plates, but restricting the use of the proceeds to prohibit the funds from subsidizing abortions. The Commonwealth would not be showing a preference for any particular speech in that case, only mirroring federal abortion funding restrictions, which have been upheld repeatedly against First Amendment attacks. The restriction would likely be upheld (by a court that isn’t in the bag for abortion rights — a point that can never be taken for granted) even though proceeds from sales of pro-life plates go to crisis pregnancy centers and the like. But given the sponsors of the legislation, how likely is it that such a reasoned compromise could be reached?

Amusingly, the AP story describes the problem follows: “Virginia’s proposed plate would generate money for the state’s eight Planned Parenthood health centers, which provide free pregnancy tests, contraception, gynecological exams, cancer screenings and other services for about 30,000 people each year.” “Other services,” huh? Like what? Tax planning? Auto repairs?

Shannen W. Coffin — Shannen W. Coffin is a contributing editor to National Review. He previously served in senior legal positions in the Justice Department and Office of Vice President during the George ...

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