In the U.S., the effort to gain even a bit of ground to promote women’s basic reproductive rights has become a struggle. This week, Virginia was poised to become only the fourth state in the nation with a pro-choice specialty license plate and the first to establish one through a legislative process. But Republicans in the General Assembly have created another roadblock to funding desperately needed services that would have been supported by these plates.
Speciality license plates are a way of showing support for a cause. After the
first 1,000 plates are purchased, $15 of the $25 purchase price goes to
the plate’s sponsor. Only two
states–Pennsylvania and Montana–offer some version of a "pro-choice" license
plate, while Hawaii
offers a decal. Meanwhile 24 states offer some version of the "Choose
Life" plate or a similar design that is construed as having a pro-life
message. The support received from these plates is one reason anti-choice organizations have put so much effort into making them available in states across the country.
Last year the General Assembly passed legislation
to create a "Choose Life" license plate, of which 1,899 have been sold
has been collected for Heartbeat International, a network of crisis pregnancy
centers. Crisis pregnancy centers in Virginia
and elsewhere have a long record of providing misleading information to
women about birth control, condoms, abortion and pregnancy.
Planned Parenthood of Virginia is the sponsor of the "Trust
Women, Respect Choice" plates for that state and would ostensibly receive money from the sale of the plates to provide services to low-income women, men, and youth seeking basic reproductive and sexual health care, such as family planning, screening for sexually transmitted infections, Pap smears and the like.
But yesterday, Republicans in Virginia’s General Assembly created yet another roadblock to improving these desperately-needed services. The House of Delegates passed a bill that would create a pro-choice
license plate for purchase by state residents, but in a first, Republicans made sure that none of the money from the sale of the plates would go to Planned Parenthood.
amendment sponsored by Del. Todd Gilbert redirects money from the sale of the "Trust Women" plates o the Virginia
Pregnant Women Support Fund, a special fund "administered by the Board of
Health to support women and families who are facing unplanned pregnancy." The
amendment making the change to HB1108 was passed 56-39 with three Republicans
joining the 36 Democrats on the losing side.
Courtney Jones is the grassroots manager of Planned
Parenthood of Virginia. "I’m outraged about the funds going to the Pregnant
Women Support Fund because they don’t provide the same services as Planned
Parenthood does," Jones said. "They’re not doing preventive services. This action shows an inherent discriminatory viewpoint in
the legislature. It has absolutely nothing to do with the patients
that can be potentially served by the revenue generated from these plates and instead
has everything to do with some perceived notion of Planned Parenthood and a
bias against Planned Parenthood."
According to the latest statistics from the Guttmacher Institute:
- In Virginia, 846,100 women are in need of
contraceptive services and supplies. Of these, 371,640 women need publicly
supported contraceptive services because they have incomes below 250% of the
federal poverty level (251,710) or are sexually active teenagers (119,930).
- In Virginia, 11% of women aged 15-44 have
incomes below the federal poverty level, and 18% of all women in this age-group
are uninsured (i.e., do not have private health insurance or Medicaid
This is an "unprecedented move" in Virginia history, Jones
added, because the General Assembly has never redirected funds away from the
sponsor of a specialty license plate. Melanie Stokes, spokesperson for the
Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, also said she couldn’t think of another
case where something like this has happened. "As far as I know, the benefiting
organization has never been changed from the original legislation," Stokes
Del. Bob Brink was the sponsor of HB1108. He said in a
statement on the floor of the House after the amendment had been added:
Yesterday, for the first time in
the history […] the House adopted an amendment that would divert the proceeds
of a special plate from the intended beneficiary to another – in this case, an
empty vessel: a state fund that was established several years ago but has never
received a penny of funding.
Mr. Speaker, 350 supporters of Planned
Parenthood signed up for these plates in order to support the Virginia League
for Planned Parenthood, as specified in house bill 1108 as introduced.
The unprecedented amendment we
adopted yesterday would wipe out those applications and render the bill a
nullity, thereby elevating one position on an issue of public policy over
The Senate also passed legislation yesterday to create the "Trust
Women" plate. In the Senate’s version, the funds for the sale of the plates still go to Planned Parenthood,
although only after Democrats blocked
a similar amendment to redirect the funds.
Because the House and Senate passed different versions, the
future of the plate is uncertain. Jones said the bills would now go back to
the respective subcommittees in the House and Senate and then back to the full floor. Depending on what changes are made to
the legislation after those negotiations Jones said Planned Parenthood would decide what
their actions would be, including potentially a lawsuit. "We’re weighing our options right now and consulting with staff counsel," Jones said.
Outside of legal actions Jones said Planned Parenthood is currently working to organize demonstrations statewide on Monday, February 22. Those interested in participating can email her at Courtney.Jones@ppfa.org for more information.
Del. Brink, the original bill sponsor in the House is also
hopeful the bill may be changed. "I’m hopeful that at a further stage in
process this wrong-headed and politically motivated action will be
he said in an email.