Choose Life license plate pictured on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. (Courtesy Photo)

DES MOINES --- An Iowa anti-abortion group says it’s on track to meet the requirements for a state-issued license plate carrying a pro-life message before the end of the year.

An Iowa Right to Life spokeswoman said more than 1,000 Iowa motorists have expressed interest in “Choose Life” plates that are similar to those offered in more than half of the states.

After more than 10 years of trying to win approval of the specialty plate, 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 payment of $50 — for at least 500 plates before the DOT will issue “Choose Life” plates. There’s about a one-month turnaround between the time the 500 orders are received and the distribution of the plates.

Jenifer Bowen, Iowa Right to Life executive director, estimated the group has received about one-third of the necessary orders. The group 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 an anti-abortion group to express its message on a license plate, Bowen hasn’t directly received any 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, according to 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. Then the plates merely represent the “expression of the car owner in a public forum.”

Iowans aren’t bashful about expressing themselves in that forum. In fact, the DOT offers more than five dozen specialty plates. For the most part, the opinions are as innocuous as touting allegiance to one or the other of the state’s three regent universities, support for breast cancer awareness or the efforts of Ducks Unlimited.

According to the DOT, the top-sellers are the natural resources goldfinch, University of Iowa, firefighter and Iowa State University plates.

Unlike those plates, Iowa Right to Life won’t get any of the proceeds from the sale of the Choose Life plates. The amount sponsoring organizations receives varies. The $45 first-time issuance fee for the goldfinch plate is split between the Resource Enhancement Protection fund — $35 – and Natural Resources — $10. The $50 first-time personalized 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.

For someone in a “crisis moment,” she said, a “Choose Life” plate might be “a sign, a gentle reminder, not in your face.”

It’s a way to “raise the consciousness of many about the need to protect life from conception,” added Norm Pawlewski, longtime Iowa Right to Life lobbyist.

“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 next spring to meet the 500 order minimum, according to the DOT. If 500 applications are received, then inmates at the Anamosa State Penitentiary will begin manufacturing the plates. If the required number of applications is not received within a year, the department may cancel its approval of the application or grant an extension.


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