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'Choose Life' license plate would funnel cash to divisive cause (Detroit News)

Published January 31, 2012 in The Detroit News Opion Page.

By Laura Berman

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Published: 01.31.12| Updated: 01.31.12

In the January rush to help solve the state's problems, state Sen. Patrick Colbeck has launched his vital bid for a "Choose Life" state-sponsored license plate.

Michigan won't be the first.

Choose Life America, a national nonprofit organization, has successfully enlisted 24 states over a decade to add "Choose Life" plates to their otherwise innocuous rosters of rear-bumper fundraising. Organ donation, the Boy Scouts, the Olympics — causes we can all believe in.

But "Choose Life" is different: Unlike the Scouts, who encounter only occasional controversy, Choose Life is a hot-button political slogan and a tool of one of the state's most powerful political lobbies, Right to Life of Michigan. (Choose Life America designates the Michigan group as its go-to operator in Michigan on its website.) It's a slogan that divides us, and a precedent for the state helping to funnel dollars and vehicle advertising to the causes that make us crazy.

Sponsor Colbeck, a Republican from Canton Township, doesn't see it this way. He considers "the right to life" as an American core principle and one that's rightfully articulated in his bill. That the U.S. Supreme Court has held otherwise is their mistake, not his, he argues.

If passed, Senate Bill 600 will instantly entangle the state and Right to Life of Michigan in a warm and cozy fundraising dance chaperoned by the Secretary of State.

While you might think a tea partier, as Colbeck is, wouldn't want more government intrusion or apparatus, he takes another view. To Colbeck, the proposed license plate will only cost the state $15,000 up front, and will then pay its own way through fees.

The bill sticks up for "the most vulnerable members of society," those who haven't been born and thus can't engage in political lobbying.

Beyond mere sloganeering, the Choose Life plate will disburse dollars to Choose Life Michigan that would promote abortion alternatives and "outreach to at-risk populations."

In other states, this has meant funneling dollars to "pregnancy centers" that have been accused of providing women with false medical information and overtly religious messages. (Colbeck doesn't seem especially keen on separation of church and state.)

The truth about at-risk populations is this: They are poor women and their children, a population that's suffering in Michigan as never before. Last week, the 2011 Kids Count survey reported that 11 percent of Michigan's children are living in extreme poverty, or less than $11,000 for a family of four.

The state is now subsidizing about 47 percent of all school lunches, and half the state's children are living in poverty or near-poverty.

"They should be working with organizations like ours to prevent unintended pregnancy, rather than focusing on slogans for a license plate," says Sarah Scranton, executive director for Planned Parenthood Affiliates of Michigan

But Colbeck regards mere "quality of life" as a lesser issue to baby-making and adopting: He wants poor women to have their babies and then give them up for adoption. Educating women about contraception, teaching responsibility, helping to prevent unwanted pregnancy — he'll leave that for those of us who don't understand American core principles.

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