An Iowa pro-life group is on track this year to meet requirements for a state-issued license plate carrying a pro-life message.
An Iowa Right to Life spokeswoman said more than 1,000 Iowa motorists have expressed interest in “Choose Life” plates similar to those offered in more than 25 states.
After more than 10 years of trying to win approval, Iowa Right to Life got a green light from the Iowa Department of Transportation to begin accepting applications for the plate. The group was given a year to gather orders — including a $50 payment — for at least 500 plates before the DOT would issue “Choose Life” plates. There’s about a one-month turnaround between when the orders are received and when the plates will be ready for distribution.
Jenifer Bowen, the group’s executive director, estimated it has received about one-third of the necessary orders. Iowa Right to Life is promoting the plates through its various publications, at county fairs and on Catholic radio.
Despite some initial questions about the propriety of the state allowing a pro-life group to express its message on a license plate, Bowen hasn’t received any direct criticism. She understands there are groups and individuals who “aren’t appreciative of our efforts.”
That’s no reason to deny the group the opportunity to express itself, said Ben Stone, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union-Iowa. Ideally, Stone said, everyone could choose their own license plate message.
“Now that would be interesting,” he said.
In lieu of that, Stone will settle for a process in which the government isn’t picking sides in approving the plates. Government neutrality “is the key to making this a true public forum.”
“Then people perceive those plates to be personal speech, a personal message, which is consistent with concept of free speech,” he said. The plates merely represent the “expression of the car owner in a public forum.”
Iowans aren’t bashful about expressing themselves in that forum. The DOT offers more than five dozen specialty plates. For the most part, the opinions are innocuous, such as touting allegiance to one of the state’s three regent universities and supporting breast cancer awareness or the efforts of Ducks Unlimited.
According to the DOT, top-selling plates are the natural resources’ goldfinch, University of Iowa, firefighter and Iowa State University.
Unlike organizations behind those plates, Iowa Right to Life won’t get any of the proceeds. The amount sponsoring organizations receives varies. The $45 first-time fee for the goldfinch plate is split between the resource enhancement protection fund ($35) and natural resources ($10). The $50 university plates generate $25 for the university and $25 for the road use tax fund. The $25 initial fee for firefighter plates goes to the Paul Ryan Memorial Firefighter Safety Training Fund.
The value to Iowa Right to Life is in the “opportunity to express what 29 other states have on their plates,” Bowen said.
Norm Pawlewski, longtime lobbyist for the group, said it’s a way to raise consciousness.
“It’s just one more way to get the message out there,” he said. “It’s not the end all (but) just one more step to alert people to the fact that life is precious.”
Iowa Right to Life has until the spring to meet the 500-order minimum, according to the DOT. If 500 orders are received, then inmates at the Anamosa State Penitentiary will begin manufacturing the plates. If the minimum is not received within a year, the department may cancel its approval of the application or grant an extension.
Top selling license plates
Source: Iowa Department of Transportation