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Thursday, November 03, 2005

ACLU fights for equal time for reproductive freedom in Tennessee

License plates now give one-sided viewpoint

CINCINNATI - The American Civil Liberties Union today asked the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold a lower court ruling blocking an anti-abortion specialty license plate in Tennessee, saying that the plate discriminates against opposing viewpoints.

“When the state of Tennessee approved an anti-abortion license plate and failed to do the same for a pro-choice plate, it effectively cut off public discussion,” said Julie Sternberg, Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, who argued the case today before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. “The lower court made clear that the state cannot open up a forum for public debate on abortion without allowing both sides an equal opportunity to express their position. We are hopeful that the appeals court will do the same.”

The law in question makes a “Choose Life” license plate available to motorists for an annual fee of $35 over and above the basic costs of registering a car in the state. Fifty percent of all funds raised, after expenses, go to a private anti-choice organization called New Life Resources. The legislature twice rejected an amendment that would have authorized a “Pro Choice” specialty plate.

On September 24, 2004, a federal district court blocked the state from distributing “Choose Life” plates, saying that the state’s sponsorship of such plates constitutes viewpoint discrimination. The state appealed the case to the Sixth Circuit.

“The real issue at the heart of this case is free speech,” said Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director of the ACLU of Tennessee. “This is not about being on one side or the other of the abortion debate. It is about being on the side of free speech for all.”

Plaintiffs in the case include the ACLU of Tennessee, Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, Inc., and three individuals. Lawyers on the case include Sternberg and Carrie Flaxman with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project; Roger Evans and Donna Lee of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America; and Susan L. Kay, the ACLU of Tennessee Legal Committee Chair.

The case, ACLU of Tennessee v. Bredesen, #03-1046.

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