Massachusetts Choose Life License Plates Providing Resources For Mothers, Babies, And The Pro-Life Cause

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The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is pro-life?

Actually, there’s one way it sort of is.

In Massachusetts, optional specialty license plates support a variety of causes. One of them is Choose Life Massachusetts, an organization that uses the revenue it collects to offer grants for pro-life activities, including crisis pregnancy centers, pro-life advocacy groups, and housing for poor women.

As of January 27, 2021, there were 3,100 vehicles registered in Massachusetts with Choose Life license plates. However, 2020 marked the lowest sales for the plate on record since they became available to the public in 2010. While the owners of 165 vehicles ordered the plates for the first time in 2019, that figure declined to 143 last year, according to data provided by the Massachusetts Department of Motor Vehicles to NewBostonPost.

The coronavirus emergency may have something to do with the 13 percent drop in Choose Life plates. Supporters of the program are just happy that many people are driving with them.

Merry Nordeen, the founder of Choose Life Massachusetts, gets a kick out of seeing the license plates on the road.

“It’s rewarding to see it,” said Nordeen, who also serves as an administrative assistant at St. Joseph’s Parish in Wakefield, in a telephone interview with NewBostonPost late last month. “My initial desire was to have the plate for myself, but I didn’t realize plates were different from state to state. It was in Florida that it was making the news. I thought it was a great idea, so I called them, and they said it wasn’t available and no one was working on it. I’m so proud to see so many people with the plates. People will send me pictures of them and show me how everyone in their family has one. You’ll go to some organizational meetings — like a Massachusetts Citizens for Life dinner — and you’ll see all these cars with the plates. It’s the best feeling in the world. I hope we can continue increasing our numbers.” 

The Massachusetts state government offers 48 specialty license plates to automobile owners willing to spend a little extra for a cause. A state statute (Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 90, Section 2F) calls them “distinctive registration plates.” One example:  A car owner who renews a registration ordinarily pays $60 for a two-year period — but for an extra $40, the owner can get Choose Life license plates. If a car owner wants to switch right away, the state charges a $20 swapping fee plus the $40 specialty license plate fee.

The first time around that a car owner pays that extra $40, Choose Life Massachusetts receives $28,  because $12 of it goes to pay the cost of the license plate. In subsequent years, Choose Life Massachusetts receives the entire $40 specialty plate fee.

Getting the plate approved in Massachusetts took years. Nordeen started on the project in 2003 after hearing about it in many other states, but she didn’t get approval for it until 2010. The reason:  the sponsoring organization must collect at least 1,500 applications before getting the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles to consider approving a design for it. The organization also must post a $100,000 bond; if the state sells 3,000 plates within the first two years, then the organization receives the money back.

Although Choose Life Massachusetts fell short of the 3,000 standard during the first two years of the program, an anonymous donor paid the cost of getting the bond. Bond fees usually cost between 1 and 4 percent of the bond’s face value, although they can be as high as 15 percent, according to Surety Solutions.

The Choose Life plates haven’t exactly taken off, but there are enough on the road that they are noticeable. Supporters consider them a success.

It was hard going at first.

“I thought everyone would love the idea as much as I did and that it would be so easy to get it done. I thought I’d do one more thing, get one more interview and it’d be done,” Nordeen said. “I was on the cover of the living section of The Boston Globe and thought that’d be the breakthrough, but no one read it.”

The under-read Boston Globe story appeared June 10, 2010. After it didn’t work, Nordeen tried a more personal approach.

“What I started doing was asking people to ask two more people to get the license plate. One woman was going to all of the churches in the area telling the priests that they needed to have information about it in their churches,” Nordeen said. “… We had a lot of people pitching in and that was what we needed to succeed.”

With the specialty license plate money, Nordeen issues grants a few times a year.

Choose Life Massachusetts offers three kinds of grants. One is a promotional grant; that’s a $2,000 grant for organizations that promote Choose Life Massachusetts through either their web site or newsletter. Another kind is the new center grant; this is a grant of up to $5,000 either to new organizations or to organizations that have to undergo major renovations.

The third type is the training/expense grant; this grant allows organizations to send people to pro-life conferences and sonogram training, or to defray the cost of a one-time purchase to advance the pro-life cause or to offset the cost of a fund-raising event of a pro-life organization. These grants are typically $1,000, although as needed they help send two people from the same organization to certain pro-life conferences and events, totaling $2,000.

“We’re supporting crisis pregnancy centers, maternity homes, and other pro-life organization centers as well,” Nordeen said. “It’s rewarding, but I’m not doing any of the great work these organizations do. I’m not there counseling a woman through an unplanned pregnancy, but in my own way, I’m able to support them.”

The grants may seem modest, but for some it makes all the difference.

“It really hit home when one organization sent a thank you note saying that our $2,000 grant was 25 percent of their budget,” Nordeen said. “You think $2,000 isn’t a lot of money, but for some organizations it’s huge.” 

Nordeen provided NewBostonPost with the list of recipients from 2020. All are in Massachusetts:


Abundant Hope Pregnancy Resource Center, Attleboro

Bethesda House, North Pembroke

Bethlehem House, Easthampton

Heartbeat Ministries, Burlington

Life Matters TV, Boston

North Berkshire Pregnancy Support Center dba New Direction, North Adams

Pregnancy Support Services of Berkshire County, Pittsfield

Problem Pregnancy, Worcester


NewBostonPost reached out to a handful of organizations that have received grants from the program –in 2020 and before. Recipients said the grant program is vital.

That includes Massachusetts Citizens for Life, which received grants in 2013, 2016, and 2017.

“By defraying fundraising costs, the grants that Massachusetts Citizens for Life has been privileged to receive from Choose Life License Plates have maximized the impact of donor support for our life-saving work,” MCFL executive director Pat Stewart told NewBostonPost in an email message. “We are a grateful beneficiary of this inspired, life-affirming initiative.”

Abundant Hope Pregnancy Resource Center of Attleboro is a frequent recipient of the grant; since 2013, the center has received it eight times. It’s right near an abortion clinic in the city.

“The funding received has been used for relocation of our office to a new and improved location as well as renovations to our medical office, ” executive director Darlene Howard told NewBostonPost in an email message. “We have even received reimbursement grants for travel to very important pro-life conferences in the U.S. where over 600 pro-life individuals join to share their experiences in pregnancy centers and how we can work to assist more babies, women, and families.”
“In a state with such extreme abortion laws, it is a breath of fresh air to have an organization readily available to financially assist pregnancy centers that receive no Federal or State funding and never, ever charge our clients for any of the services or resources we provide,” Howard added.
Another frequent recipient of the grant is Heartbeat Pregnancy Help Center in Burlington. The center has received grants seven times:  2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2019, and 2020.
“Families served by Heartbeat have benefited from the grants from the Choose Life license plates,” the organization’s volunteer director, Muriel Ostrowski, told NewBostonPost in an email message. “We are an all-volunteer nonprofit organization serving needy families north of Boston. We assisted the families of 565 babies born during 2020 along with continuing to assist many other families. The Choose Life funds helped us to provide car seats, strollers, baby beds, clothing, blankets, toiletries, and other needed items. The fundraising grant money we have received purchased baby bottles for fundraising events at local parishes.”
“We are grateful for the assistance provided through the Choose Life license plate program and to the many people who support it by choosing Choose Life license plates,” she added.

Bethesda House in Pembroke has received grants in each of the past four years. 

“This grant helps us achieve our mission:  ‘To provide a temporary home that is safe and nurturing for young mothers, either pregnant or parenting their baby. The basis of our home is built on God’s love and how life can be transformed through a relationship with Jesus,’ ” co-founder and director Missy Porter told NewBostonPost via email.
“Everyone knows how much love and support new mothers need throughout their pregnancy as well as in those early stages of motherhood,” Porter added. “So many women don’t have the luxury of a stable partner, supportive family, a comfortable home, or ample education to obtain a well-paying job.  Bethesda House not only provides a nurturing home to live in but also, and maybe even more importantly, Bethesda House is a place for these young women to grow.”
Porter told NewBostonPost that Bethesda House provides private rooms for mothers and essentials for their babies such as diapers, clothing, food, and toiletries. The organization also offers job tracks and education plans; an opportunity to learn life skills such as budgeting and nutrition; a faith-based environment; and love and support from more than 100 volunteers. The women who live there are between 18 and 25 years old, pregnant or with a child under one year old, and don’t have substance abuse problems, according to the organization’s web site. They can live there for up to two years.
As of February 2021, 33 states have a Choose Life license program; Connecticut is the only other New England state that has one, according to
Florida was the first state to approve a Choose Life license plate program. There, it required an act of legislation. Democratic governor Lawton Chiles vetoed the proposal in 1998, but his successor, Republican governor Jeb Bush, signed it into law in 1999, as The Tallahassee Democrat reported at the time.
Below is the complete data on the number of first-time Choose Life License plates purchases in Massachusetts by year, as provided by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to NewBostonPost in late January. Plate orders are from the people who signed up for the license plates before they hit the road, while total issuances are the people who signed up after that order.

Additionally, the Department of Transportation provided NewBostonPost with the program’s revenue data from fiscal year 2016 to fiscal year 2020.