The full commitment of Tennessee’s pro-life movement has been required to make the Choose Life plate a reality and success. Proving that the harder the struggle, the sweeter the victory, life advocates persisted through a difficult legislative struggle and a costly court fight that ended up with a failed pro-abortion motion before the U. S. Supreme Court.
The determination of pro-life Tennesseans, led by New Life Resources, Tennessee Right to Life, and prime bill sponsors Senator Jim Bryson (R-Franklin), Representatives Glen Casada (R-College Grove) and Phillip Pinion (D-Union City), ultimately resulted in a watershed victory underscoring the right of Tennessee’s Legislature to enact policies which favor normal childbirth over abortion. Upon passage of HB 788/SB 618 Tennessee became the 11th state to pass a Choose Life specialty plate. Below are some highlights of the long effort to establish the plate:
- Despite initial vehement committee opposition from pro-abortion legislators in both political parties, the plate was passed in May of 2003 by votes of 26-4 in the state Senate and 80-14 in the state House. Plate supporters across the state had overwhelmed pro-abortion legislators with emails, calls, and contacts demanding fair treatment for the Choose Life plate.
- Again demonstrating broad support, plate supporters completed the required pre-sell of 1,000 plates faster than any other specialty plate. 1,265 plates were reserved in just 6 months, and applications were submitted to the Department of Safety on January 12th, 2004. This included drivers from every one of Tennessee’s 95 counties.
- Upon news that the pro-abortion A.C.L.U. and Planned Parenthood Federation of America intended to file suit against the state to prevent production and distribution of the plate, Tennessee Right to Life assisted in retaining the prominent national legal counsel of Bopp, Coleson & Bostrom, resulting in New Life Resources being recognized as an ‘intervening defendant’ in the lawsuit against the plate. (March 3, 2004, ACLU v. Bredesen).
- In an effort to raise public awareness of the case as well as funds for the plate’s legal defense, more than 12,000 promotional Choose Life ‘front plates’ were purchased across the state at a cost of $10 each. Franklin artist Maureen O’Brien assisted by creating the life-affirming image and plate artwork.
- In September 2004, pro-abortion U.S. District Court Judge Todd Campbell struck down the plate as violating the freedom of speech. Though pro-abortion Governor Phil Bredesen refused to appeal Campbell’s ruling, intervenor New Life Resources successfully appealed the wrong decision to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
- Also in 2004, leading legislative opponent of the plate, 5-term state Representative Bob Patton (R-Johnson City), was defeated in the Republican primary by pro-life challenger Matthew Hill.
- By a 2-1 decision, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed on March 17, 2006, that Tennessee’s legislators have the right to enact policies which favor childbirth over abortion and ruled in favor of the constitutionality of Tennessee’s Choose Life plate (link to decision).
- The pro-abortion A.C.L.U. of Tennessee appealed the lower court decision and requested that the U.S. Supreme Court take up the case. In June of 2006, the nation’s highest court refused the challenge, thereby upholding the 6th Circuit ruling and allowing for the production and distribution of the plate. The outcome influenced the A.C.L.U. to drop a similar lawsuit against Ohio’s Choose Life plate statute and cleared the way for life-affirming plates in Kentucky and Michigan as well.
- Tennessee’s Choose Life plates finally became publicly available at the end of November 2006.