New "Choose Life" Iowa license plate driving controversy - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

New "Choose Life" Iowa license plate driving controversy

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DUBUQUE (KWWL) -

A new and somewhat controversial license plate in Iowa has some people celebrating and others up in arms.

Iowa drivers can now get a license plate that says "Choose Life," a slogan popularized by anti-abortion groups.

Marian Bourek is executive director of Dubuque County Right to Life.

"We're very excited that it's finally happened," she said.

Anti-abortion groups statewide have been working to make this license plate a reality for some nine years, Bourek said.

"We need[ed] 500 applications for them to produce them, then you can get as many as you want after that," she said, referring to Iowa Department of Transportation rules for proposing new specialized license plates.

Getting 500 paid applications is exactly what pro-life groups across Iowa teamed up and did.

Iowa DOT Motor Vehicle Division director Mark Lowe said this "Choose Life" specialty plate is the most controversial one the department has ever printed. Still, Lowe said, it's not the department's job to judge the message.

"That's not the proper role for the government. That plate becomes the organization's speech and the speech of the people who put that on the vehicle," he said. "By the same token, if someone with a differing viewpoint came forward and their application met our rules...then they would be subject to go through the same process and have the same opportunity."

A proposed specialty plate must not be sexually, racially or ethnically degrading and may not serve as advertising for a company, Lowe said.

"Does the design interfere or not interfere with the function of the plate?" Lowe said, listing criteria the department uses to evaluate a proposed specialty plate. "It's not vulgar? Those types of things. You know, beyond those types of things, we don't want to get involved in the viewpoint."

Among other requirements, a proposed specialty plate must also have 500 people submit and make a payment on an application for the plate before the department will approve it. Lowe said the department uses that money for the costs associated with printing a new plate, in response to some people's concern that taxpayer dollars are funding a controversial specialty plate.

Iowa is the 29th state in the US to have some form of anti-abortion specialty plate available.

KWWL contacted Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which has no comment on the new plates.

Iowa offers more than 60 specialty plates, but Lowe said that puts the state about in the middle, nationally. Some states, such as South Carolina, have more than 200.

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