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Five Questions About “Choose Life” License Plates in DC

WEB Choose Life License Plate DC

Courtesy of Children First Foundation

Mark Stricherz - published on 08/30/14

Washington drivers promote a different option.

Washington, D.C., may not be the abortion capital of the country, but its abortion rate is much higher than the nation as a whole. Roughly three in ten pregnancies were terminated in 2011, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that was affiliated with Planned Parenthood. The comparable national figure is one in six pregnancies. Overall, 4,750 women in the District chose death rather than life for their unborn children.

What can be done? Pro-life organizations in the District operate at a disadvantage. Two crisis pregnancy centers compete against nine abortion providers, including five clinics, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

But last October, pro-life forces in the city scored a victory. They were permitted to sell “choose life” specialty license plates, which depict a cartoon drawing of two smiling children with the words “Choose Life” under them. The District joined 29 states that sell or allow the sale of the license plates, which cost $25 a year.

The movement has grown consistently. The first “choose life” license plate was sold in August 2000 in Florida. Today, more than 900,000 license plates have been sold or renewed. Nearly $20 million has been raised to help crisis pregnancy centers, maternity homes, and similar pro-life groups, according to Choose Life America, Inc., a non-profit group.

In the District and three other states, the Children First Foundation oversees the sale and renewal of the plates. Larry Cirignano is the foundation’s DC representative. Cirignano, former executive director of Catholic Citizenship, a lay organization, said a mere 30 cars in the District have the specialty plate, but he expects many more will be sold.

Have any women chosen adoption instead of abortion because of your work with the “Choose Life” license plates in DC?

I do not have any DC-specific stories of actual babies saved because of the license plate.  We are less than a year old, and only about 30 cars have the plates so far. The plates cause people to discuss the issue of adoption, and that can only be beneficial.  The funds go to DC organizations that help women and promote adoption.  

What has been the response from the public and Catholics specifically in DC?

So far we have had a very modest response. The Catholic Conference and the pro-life community have been very supportive, but unfortunately most people who work for pro-life groups in DC live in Virginia or Maryland. Many people who live in DC do not have cars. They can walk, take mass transit or rent a Zip Car. Parking is also very expensive. The DC Knights of Columbus were very helpful in getting us the initial signatures we needed to get the license plates approved in the District but they too have many members without cars or who are living in Maryland or Virginia.

Why did you decide to work for the Children First Foundation?

I have been involved with Russ and Jill Amerling since they first came to Washington, D.C., to promote the license plates, and they stay with me whenever they come to town for the March for Life or travelling through on their way to promote the plate in other states.  It is a great way to promote adoption and the pro-life cause. Elizabeth Rex asked me to help her with the administrative process with DC Department of Motor Vehicles and together we sat for more than five hours to get the application submitted and worked for months to get the DC plate on the road.

How much of the money goes to the bureaucracy?

All of our funds collected are redistributed to organizations that promote Baby Safe Haven, provide pregnancy resources and promote adoption. Twenty of the $25 dollars are disbursed evenly among the qualifying organizations. Even if I had 100 license plates on the road at $5 a piece, $500 a year would not go very far towards the expenses of recordkeeping, legal fees, postage and promotional materials.  All of our records are available on request.  The license plates are promotional to foster discussion and identify supporters.

Each State and the District have different distribution and reporting requirements; all are transparent, and their records are available upon request.

Have any DC officials or citizens resisted your efforts?

The DC Council had no input to the process, so we stayed under the radar and no politics or politicians were involve. Roughly 25 groups have organizational license plates, including the National Association of Black Scuba Divers.

No one has been pulled over while driving for being pro-life; no cars have been scratched or keyed; and no incidents of road rage have been reported. Many drivers are adopted themselves or are adoptive parents who are proud to talk about the importance of being open to adoption.

The District of Columbia only has four maternity beds available for the entire city. The fifth woman in need of shelter needs to go to Virginia or Maryland.  There are many families who have opened their homes to help pregnant teens

My goal is to have 1,000 plates on the road in the District promoting adoption and the Choose Life cause. I think that once we reach the tipping point of 200 plates on the road they will self-promote and grow as people become familiar with them.

Mark Stricherz is based in Washington. He is author of Why the Democrats are Blue.

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