John Leo

To make the comprehensive argument, you have to argue that license plates are a form of state speech that must avoid social commentary and commercials for various civic groups. That's a clear position, and I'm for it. The problem is that for years now, governments have been clearly acting as if license plates are sites for private speech. Vanity plates let any car owner carry almost any message, from "atheist," which Florida authorities tried to ban, to plates featuring the word "Redskins," which California revoked as racist after a former Washington Redskins player had used it for seven years.

In Florida, which is apparently the world capital of license plate controversies, one motorist raised a fuss by adding the vanity message "EAT UMM" to his "Save the Manatee" specialty plate. Also in Florida, an Italian-American couple had their "2DAGOES" plate revoked by the state. All these are examples of viewpoint discrimination that the Supreme Court would strike down. The First Amendment does not allow the state to decide which messages it will permit. That's why the Ku Klux Klan could not be barred from the "Adopt a Highway" litter control program.

Abortion supporters are spending a great deal of time and money to erase a simple two-word message that harms nobody. The message does nothing to impede or impugn any abortion decision. It accepts the abortion-rights language of "choice" and just recommends one of the two options that can be chosen. How is this harmful?

Barry Silver, an attorney representing NOW and other plaintiffs in a legal challenge to the Florida plate, is sure the plate will cause dreadful harm. In fact, he compares the words "choose life" to the Nazi salute, "Sieg Heil." Both phrases, he told me, "may sound benign but are really dangerous. The state shouldn't promote murder. The 'Choose Life' plate is a license to kill, a rallying cry to intimidate and kill."

Thanks for sharing, Barry. He said his clients aren't interested in producing their own license plates; they just want to stop production of "Choose Life" plates.

I think we get the point. After all its effort to delegitimize resistance to abortion, NOW and its allies are deeply offended that choosing life is presented as a respectable option. This isn't about defending the First Amendment. It's about defending abortion ideology.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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