Report from Richmond: Choose Life License Plates Fail in Transportation Committee on Tie Vote

Yesterday the Senate Transportation Committee held a hearing on the authorization of “Choose Life” license plates, which would have generated revenue for crisis pregnancy centers. This is not a committee where I normally have to spend a lot of time (you know, because the transportation committee, and license plates, are not the appropriate forums in which to debate the abortion issue) and after yesterday I am even more thankful for that, because it is a total SNOREFEST. But after a couple of hours they got to the license plate authorization, and Senator Cuccinelli stood to defend his bill. He was asked by Senator Chap Petersen if authorizing a Choose Life license plate without also authorizing a pro-choice plate was unconstitutional (it is) and Senator Cuccinelli gave a rather unsatisfactory answer about it being okay because the funds went to organizations that provide a broad public service.

But let’s examine that “broad public service” shall we? Senator Newman took umbrage at the criticism of the over 75 crisis pregnancy centers in Virginia that would be the recipients of this funding, claiming he had never heard a negative thing about them, even though it has been well-documented that CPCs around the country often use deceptive, intimidating, and emotionally manipulative tactics to coerce women into making a particular decision when faced with an unplanned pregnancy. These are not the type of organizations we want receiving up to $65,000 a month in state approved funds (believe it or not, that’s the amount the Choose Life license plate generates in Florida!).

In the end Senator Deeds compared the Choose Life plate to the other license plates up for authorization that day (including a Washington Capitals plate, a plate for the Middle Atlantic Professional Golfers’ Association, and a plate for the Appalachian School of Law) and made the excellent point that no other plate came close to the political statement that the state would be endorsing should it approve the Choose Life plate. The bill failed in committee by a vote of 6-6, with Senators Watkins and Blevins abstaining from the vote. (If you are a constituent of Sens. Watkins, Blevins, Deeds, Y. Miller, J. Miller, Ticer, Petersen, or Houck, I would encourage you to email them a quick thank you—they got a lot of public pressure to vote for the plate, and they stood their ground.)

I think this whole debate says about the climate in the General Assembly when it comes to choice. There is nothing to prohibit an individual citizen from putting a “Choose Life” bumper sticker on their car and making a personal donation to the crisis pregnancy center of their choice. So why the need to involve the state by attempting to get an official license plate? I think it has everything to do with Senator Cuccinelli’s personal political ambitions this year. He’d rather waste time with political grandstanding than do anything that would actually prevent unintended pregnancies and reduce the need for abortion. It’s frustrating to me as a lobbyist because it forces me to sit through a Transportation committee hearing (trust me, they are seriously boring) but it’s even more frustrating to me as an advocate because he wasted the valuable time of the legislature on something as silly as a license plate—and that’s time we could have spent figuring out ways to help low-income women get the family planning assistance they need, to better educate our youth on protecting themselves from sexually transmitted infections, to better diagnose and treat perinatal depression, and any number of other things that would actually improve reproductive healthcare and the lives of women and families in Virginia.

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