By Tom Venzor, Nebraska Catholic Conference
With the way that LB46 was recently debated in the Nebraska Unicameral, you would have thought our state was on the verge of overturning Roe v. Wade and banning abortion once and for all. But far from it.
Though a seemingly small piece of pro-life legislation, the legislature spent the better part of a week debating LB46 introduced by Senator Dan Watermeier of Syracuse (Legislative District 1). LB46 would provide for “Choose Life” license plates that could be purchased in lieu of regular license plates. “Choose Life” plates would come at a small, additional cost, which would be directed to a fund for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
“Choose Life” license plates are available in at least 29 states across the country. From Anchorage to Tallahassee, from Honolulu to Boston, women seeking abortion have reported a change of heart upon seeing a “Choose Life” license plate. “Choose Life” license plates offer a message of hope to those most in need. “Choose Life” license plates represent a community of people who stand in solidarity with women in a crisis pregnancy and who are contemplating abortion. They communicate the inviolable dignity of human life from the moment of conception and precious nature of unborn human life.
However, for the opposition and pro-abortion advocates, “Choose Life” license plates represent a one-sided message meant to oppress and coerce women, and violate the United States Constitution.
Such an interpretation could be no further from the truth.
“Choose Life” license plates do not represent a one-sided message. Instead, they represent a message that advocates the truth. The truth is not one-sided or partial; rather, the truth is impartial to ideological beliefs. The truth is what it is.
And the truth these plates communicate is that human life is worthy of protection from the moment of conception and the human embryo is entitled to the right to life.
“Choose Life” license plates do not represent an oppressive or coercive message, but rather a message that will, as our Lord states, “set you free” (Jn. 8:32). To quote the late Michael Novak: “In obeying the evidence of truth, no human being is humiliated—rather, he is in that way alone ennobled.”
The message to “Choose Life” conveys a message that seeks to overcome the “tragic situations of profound suffering, loneliness, a total lack of economic prospects, depression and anxiety about the future” which Pope Saint John Paul II’s encyclical, Evangelium Vitae (Gospel of Life), recognized can often be at the root of “decisions to go against life.”
Far from seeking to oppress or coerce, “Choose Life” license plates are a message that gently calls the conscience to the good, the true, and the beautiful.
“Choose Life” license plates are also unquestionably constitutional. The Supreme Court of the United States has expressly upheld the validity of “Choose Life” license plates. In June 2015, the Supreme Court vacated a decision by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals (ACLU v. Berger) that had erroneously invalidated “Choose Life” plates in North Carolina simply because the state did not simultaneously issue pro-abortion license plates.
States may promote messages in accord with their public policy preferences. In the case of Nebraska, our state law emphatically advances the “will of the people of the State of Nebraska and the members of the Legislature to provide protection for the life of the unborn child whenever possible.”
Ultimately, “Choose Life” license plates represent a deeper, more symbolic battle. Nebraska—of all places—has not advanced pro-life legislation for the last six years. Though we are identified as a major pro-life state, our state legislature has been incapable of producing a judiciary committee—the committee typically responsible for hearing pro-life legislation—that values the human dignity of the unborn child and advances the true welfare of the pregnant mother. Advancing “Choose Life” license plates becomes not only a statement that might resonate on license plates throughout the state, but a bold statement within our state legislature that the voice of the unborn child and her mother will not go unprotected.