Indiana Right to Life joins anti-abortion groups and individuals throughout the country in celebrating the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ approval of a new “Choose Life” specialty license plate that will be available in 2007.
“Governor Daniels has allowed Indiana to take a giant step forward in lowering abortion rates by supporting the ‘Choose Life’ license plate,” said Indiana Right to Life Executive Director Mike Fichter. “Every ‘Choose Life’ license plate sold will have a direct impact in helping women to choose life. The centers that will receive funding from plate sales will offer free pregnancy tests, free counseling and free information on the risks of, and alternatives to, abortion.”
Though anti-abortion groups had lobbied legislators hard over the past few years for the plate, every year that it was introduced the measure failed to receive enough support for passage. By collecting 500 signatures of Indiana residents who promise to buy the plates once they are available, however, activists were able to circumvent the Legislature and go directly to the BMV with their request.
“The governor supports the ‘Choose Life’ plates,” said his press secretary Jane Jankowski. “He believes the funds are going to a good cause.”
The good cause that will receive an estimated $3 million over the next five years from the BMV sales of the specialty plate is the Indiana Association of Pregnancy Centers — a coalition of Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) formed last year specifically for the purpose of getting approval for “Choose Life” license plates.
According to the Central Indiana Crisis Center mission statement, board members, directors and volunteers “are expected to know Christ as their Savior and Lord.” CPCs are devoted to detouring women from receiving abortions and converting those women to Christianity. Though CPCs advertise counseling services and “pregnancy choices,” staff members are volunteers from area churches who receive an average of 20 hours of training “in evangelism and counseling.” There are more than 100 Crisis Pregnancy Centers in Indiana and more than 5,000 across the country.
The first CPCs were founded in the early 1970s in the wake of Roe v. Wade by conservative religious groups such as Robert Pearson’s Pearson Foundation and Billy Graham’s Christian Action Coalition (now known as Care Net). The first Indiana CPC was founded in 1984, in Eagledale Shopping Center, on the Westside of Indianapolis.
Until the mid-’90s, many CPCs were run according to the principles laid out in Pearson’s 1984 manual, which asserted that “A killer, who in this case is the girl who wants to kill her baby, has no right to information that will help her kill her baby.” How to Start and Operate Your Own Pro-Life Outreach Crisis Pregnancy Center advocated activities ranging from the use of misleading clinic names — “If the girl who would be going to the abortion chamber sees your office with a similar name, she will probably come into your center” — to withholding the results of a client’s pregnancy test (available in two to five minutes) and keeping the woman at the CPC for up to an hour in order to show her graphic anti-abortion videos.
“The mission of the CPC,” according to the current Central Indiana Crisis Pregnancy Center Web site, “is to affirm the value of life by providing a network of care to those experiencing pregnancy-related crisis and by compassionately presenting biblical truth resulting in changed lives to the glory of God.”
Litigation may follow
Indiana will be the 14th state to offer “Choose Life” license plates to residents, though the challenges to the legality of the plates and their monetary benefit to Christian CPCs are expected to lead to the United States Supreme Court soon.
According to attorney Howard J. Bashman, of Law.com, the multiple lawsuits that arose after Tennessee approved their anti-abortion plate, and two different opinions from two lower courts, all but guarantee the question will soon be put before the Supreme Court. Bashman believes that those who “Choose Life” are ultimately choosing litigation.
“Because specialty license plate programs in practice serve as forums where private parties are allowed to express their own messages, I expect that the Supreme Court … will hold that Tennessee’s plate violates the First Amendment due to the [Crisis Pregnancy Centers’] viewpoint of discrimination.”
Fran Quigley, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, says there are no current plans to challenge the legality of the plates in Indiana. “In theory, any group that can get enough support and signatures can get their own license plate. We would step in only if an alternative viewpoint to the ‘Choose Life’ plate is denied.”
Michael McKillip, director of public policy and legislative affairs, says there are currently no plans for a Planned Parenthood of Indiana specialty plate. “We are free to pursue a pro-choice plate,” McKillip said, “but it’s a huge administrative task. Right now we’re focusing our time, money and energy on helping women receive accurate and available reproductive health care.”