By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
RICHMOND, March 30 -- Gov. Timothy M. Kaine came under fire Monday for signing a bill to create a "Choose Life" license plate, a move that abortion rights activists say runs afoul of his obligations as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Kaine, a Catholic who personally opposes abortion, said he considers such license plate messages a matter of free speech and added that the move was "in keeping with the commonwealth's longtime practice of approving specialty plates with all manner of political and social messages."
"If Planned Parenthood . . . or another similar organization ever chooses to seek a specialty license plate in Virginia, I believe the constitution would require the state to approve that plate to protect against any viewpoint discrimination," he said.
But the decision -- and the reaction that followed -- illustrated the challenge Kaine faces in trying to balance elected office with his new national political job.
Abortion rights groups, including Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America, said they are disappointed in the decision, which they said would help fund unlicensed, antiabortion pregnancy clinics.
"It is unfortunate that, even after receiving thousands of messages from Virginians and pro-choice activists across the country, Gov. Kaine has opted to sign a bill that advances a divisive political ideology at the expense of women's health," said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, said "the Choose Life plate will provide private-sector funding, not tax dollars, to organizations that support families caught in crisis situations. Everyone should agree that is a good thing for the commonwealth."
After the first 1,000 plates are sold, $15 of the $25 annual fee would go to Heartbeat International, a Christian pregnancy resource organization, which would distribute the money to about 40 centers in the state that meet the group's standards.
Jessica Honke, director of public policy for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, said: "The fact that the governor and the General Assembly wasted time and resources debating whether or not to further fund deceptive, nonmedical establishments is shameful."
Virginia offers more than 200 specialty plates, including plates that recognize colleges and military units and groups such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans or express viewpoints such as "Friend of Tibet" or "In God We Trust."
The state became the 24th to offer the "Choose Life" plate.
Under state law, more than 350 people must sign up for a plate before Department of Motor Vehicles can make it. The General Assembly passed a bill approving the plate during its annual legislative session.