‘Choose Life’: Mayhew Lake woman is driving force for bringing specialty plates to state

We’ve all heard them — inspiring stories of the Holy Spirit intervening in the lives of ordinary people and causing extraordinary outcomes. In the Bible, these events are called miracles. And, yes, they still happen today.

One of them is featured in the book “Contemplate Life.” A woman was parked in a shopping mall parking lot, and “when she returned to her car, she found a young girl standing behind her car crying. The girl said she had been waiting to meet the owner of the car. The lady thought the girl had been involved in an accident. No, the girl wanted to thank her for having that license plate because God had just used it to convince her not to have an abortion.”

The young girl explained that she had been on her way to an abortion clinic with her boyfriend, who had agreed to pay for the abortion, when she urgently needed to use the bathroom. She asked him to pull into the mall parking lot so she could find a restroom. That’s when she saw the car with a specialty license plate proclaiming the message, “Choose Life.”

JoAnn Marshall, a member of Annunciation Parish in Mayhew Lake, is helping to organize efforts to bring Choose Life license plates to Minnesota. (Photo by Dianne Towalski / The Visitor)

The book’s authors, Russ Amerling and Randy Harris, have worked together to bring to life Harris’ vision of promoting specialty license plates around the country that not only bear the message to “Choose Life” but also raise funds for life-affirming organizations, such as pro-life pregnancy centers and adoption services.

To date, 32 states have passed legislation allowing motorists to purchase Choose Life plates, and more than $26 million has been raised nationally through their sale to support abortion alternatives.

Now, through another whisper of the Holy Spirit, JoAnn Marshall, a member of Annunciation Parish in Mayhew Lake, is helping to organize efforts to bring the license plates to Minnesota.

Minnesota team forming

The organization Choose Life America promotes the special license plates around the country. When Marshall heard that it was looking to form a team in Minnesota, she said she felt called to get involved.

“Earlier this spring, the president of Choose Life America, Russ Amerling, shot out an email that he was looking for volunteers to lead meetings in Minnesota,” Marshall said.

“The following morning, when I was working out and praying … [and] trying to spend time with God, names of people and organizations kept flooding into my head,” she said. “I was just being bombarded by the Holy Spirit with contacts who I thought would support this effort. I just felt compelled to do this.”

Marshall made a list of the names of people and organizations she could reach out to for support. She wrote a letter, asking them to reach out to people they knew who might want to get involved.

“I chose obvious people that I knew, but I specifically wanted to reach out to other groups, not just Catholics, because it’s not just a Catholic thing. Many people of many faiths feel this is important,” she said.

Marshall is hoping for a good turnout for a gathering with Amerling at 7 p.m. May 15 at the St. Cloud Library to talk about the local initiative (see box).

“The more people know about this, the better it will be,” Marshall said. “We need dedicated people to get involved, but we also want those who maybe aren’t sure what this is all about to come and learn more,” she said.

A vision for life

The national Choose Life movement began in 1996 when Harris, then a Marion County commissioner in Florida, was driving behind a vehicle with a specialty license plate for another cause. He envisioned “Choose Life” plates to raise awareness and support for women in crisis pregnancies, and he shared his idea with friends Russ and Jill Amerling.

The Amerlings have dedicated their lives to the effort ever since.

In 2000, Florida became the first state to allow the plates and has since raised more than $11 million for life-affirming agencies.

“We committed ourselves to getting the plates in all 50 states,” Russ Amerling said. “But it has not been easy. We thought we might have hit a wall, but in the past year we got Nebraska, Wisconsin and just got Kansas a few weeks ago. God’s not done with it yet.”

Choose Life plates have run into court challenges in some states from those who say license plates shouldn’t advance political or religious viewpoints.

On March 1, Minnesota state Rep. Kathy Lohmer (R-Stillwater), introduced a bill — HF 2998 — to offer the plates in Minnesota.

Minnesota currently offers multiple specialty plates representing colleges, military honors, emergency personnel and charitable plates like “Critical Habitat” and “Support our Troops.”

Lohmer’s bill states that the cost of the plates would be $10, with an additional $25 contribution annually of which $5 would go to cover administrative costs and the remaining $20 would be distributed “in collaboration with the commissioner of health proportionally among agencies or organizations that receive positive abortion alternatives grants.”

Although the bill did not get a hearing this year, Lohmer said she is hopeful for action on it next year and is encouraged that so many other states have the plates.

Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is the editor of The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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