Abortion rights group sues Oklahoma over 'Choose Life' plates

Wednesday, January 14th 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Abortion rights supporters sued state officials Wednesday claiming ``Choose Life'' license plates violate the constitutional rights of those who don't oppose banning abortion.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court also claims distribution of funds from the specialty plates discriminates against pregnancy counseling agencies that discuss abortion.

``The Legislature has failed to entertain any attempt ... to introduce legislation asking for a plate to be available for those who like to express a differing political view,'' said Martha Hardwick, local counsel for the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit names the Oklahoma Tax Commission, state Treasurer Robert Butkin and Department of Human Services Director Howard Hendricks as defendants.

The agencies did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, Oklahoma Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and six individuals are the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit seeks to have a federal judge declare the plates and the distribution of funds from the plates unconstitutional, temporarily halt distribution of any more ``Choose Life'' plates and require the state to allow plates expressing support for abortion rights.

The specialty plates, part of legislation former Gov. Frank Keating singed in May 2002, can be purchased for $25.

The proceeds are distributed to pregnancy counseling groups, but the law says money cannot go to agencies who perform abortions or provide information about them.

That is ``unconstitutionally restrictive because it discriminates against the free speech of those that want to suggest or talk about a perfectly legal activity,'' Hardwick said.