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Federal judge rules against S.C. pro-life license plates

COLUMBIA, S.C. (BP)–A federal judge has ruled South Carolina’s “Choose Life” auto license plate is unconstitutional.

The state law that established the pro-life plate discriminates against abortion rights supporters because it does not offer a license promoting their views, Judge William Bertelsman wrote in his opinion, according to a Jan. 1 report on the Internet site of The State, a Columbia newspaper.

The ruling came less than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a decision permitting Louisiana’s “Choose Life” license plate law to stand. The high court rejected Dec. 2 an appeal by abortion-rights advocates of a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling. The Fifth Circuit allowed the 1999 state law to stand, ruling abortion-rights supporters did not have standing to sue.

The South Carolina attorney general’s office said it would appeal the decision to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, according to The State. “We’re hopeful we’re going to win in the end,” spokesman Robb McBurney told the Associated Press, The State reported.

Sen. Mike Fair, R.-Greenville, who led the effort in the South Carolina House to establish the plate, called the decision another case of judges “legislating from the bench,” according to The State.

The state contended the law is constitutional because the message on the license plate is “government speech” that demonstrates South Carolina’s preference for childbirth over abortion, according to the newspaper report. Therefore, the state is not required to give an opposing view.

Bertelsman, however, said it is private speech because selecting the plates is a decision made by individuals, The State reported. By offering a “Choose Life” plate, the state is providing a forum to one side without providing a similar forum to the other, according to the newspaper.

Planned Parenthood challenged the law shortly after Gov. Jim Hodges, a Democrat, signed the bill into law in September 2001, according to The State.

The plates would have cost $70, and proceeds from their sale would have helped fund crisis pregnancy centers, the newspaper reported.

In addition to South Carolina and Louisiana, five other states — Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Mississippi and Oklahoma — reportedly have approved similar pro-life plates.

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