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Specialty plate would support pro-life causes

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They are all among the choices of specialty license plates offered to Massachusetts drivers that allow them to support the causes closest to their hearts.  And, if Wakefield resident Merry Nordeen has her way, soon another specialty plate will be hitting the streets in the Bay State — one that will support pro-life causes.

For the past 18 months, Nordeen, together with her husband Kenneth Nordeen, has been tirelessly working to garner support for the Choose Life specialty license plate — a crusade which has led her to found the non-profit organization, Massachusetts Choose Life.

Like all specialty plates, the Choose Life plate would cost car owners an extra $40. Proceeds from the sales would go to designated organizations.

According to Nordeen’s proposal, the Choose Life license plate would allow drivers to financially support “non-governmental, not-for-profit agencies not involved in abortion services that offer counseling and services to pregnant women.”  

Nordeen first became involved in the Choose Life campaign when she tried to purchase one for herself.

 “I had heard of these plates in other states and wanted to get one for myself, but found out that it wasn’t available here,” she recounted. “I also was told there was no one working on getting such a plate here in Massachusetts.”

Nordeen, who was “looking for some kind of volunteer opportunity,” consulted with her husband. 

“Together we decided that this was something that we really wanted to do,” she said. 

Unsure of how to begin the process, Nordeen sought the help of Russ Amerling, a Florida native whose involvement in the Choose Life project dates back to its earliest days. Although the idea of the license plate was originally the brainchild of Ocala, Fla. county commissioner Randy Harris, Amerling was instrumental in the passing of the law that led to the issuance of the first Choose Life license plate in Florida in 1999. 

Since then, Amerling has shared his experience with those seeking to pass similar legislation in other states, including Alabama, Hawaii and Mississippi.  To date, 12 states have introduced Choose Life license plates, with another six expected to begin issuing them this year.

Since their inception, the Florida plates have raised $3.4 million to aid “the frontline organizations that meet women in crisis pregnancies,” and $4.5 million have been raised nationwide to support life-affirming agencies.

“To me this is a great ministry — to be able to help to raise money for those who are the real heroes: those volunteers that actually help women in need,” Amerling said.

Amerling believes Nordeen will be successful in her quest for the Choose Life plate in Massachusetts, although he believes the road ahead may be long for her.

“But I’m sure it’ll eventually get approved in Massachusetts because Merry [Nordeen] is such a devoted, focused individual. If she had the grassroots support that we had in Florida, she’d be ready to file for it already,” he said. 

Grassroots support — and a change in the law — is exactly what will be needed if the pro-life tags are to grace bumpers in the Commonwealth.

Current law states that specialty plates can only be issued supporting causes specified in the state law. Neither pregnancy support nor adoption are currently among the nearly two dozen approved causes. In order for the effort to proceed, the law must be amended to include either of these issues.

Once that is accomplished, the Registry of Motor Vehicles will require a $100,000 bond, to cover the manufacturing cost of the plate, and 1,500 paid applications of car owners ready to take delivery of the new plates.

Within the first two years, another 1,500 people must apply for the plate in order for the bond to be released.

In order to meet those criteria, Nordeen has turned to other pro-life organizations for help. The Knights of Columbus have offered to provide the initial bond. Organizations such as Massachusetts Citizens for Life, and Women Affirming Life have been helpful in finding people willing to apply for the Choose Life plate.

Nordeen’s goal is to find 3,000 people interested in purchasing the Choose Life license plate before she moves forward. 

In order to accomplish this, she has developed a petition for drivers interested in purchasing the specialty plate. Armed with pen and paper, Nordeen has attended many Catholic events such as the Men’s Conference and the Proud 2B Catholic Music Festival.

“Anyone who is interested in getting a Choose Life plate I ask to sign it,” she explained.  “By signing it, it does not mean they must buy it, but when I am ready to go to the state, I will contact anyone who has signed and then they can decide if they want to purchase a Choose Life plate.”

To date, 600 people have signed her petition. Despite the daunting prospect of finding 2,400 more people, Nordeen is confident that the Choose Life license plate will be passed in Massachusetts.

“I really feel that this is where God wants me to be,” she said.

Nordeen also hopes that others will join her in her efforts to pass the Choose Life license plate.

“If anyone is interested in helping in any way, I would love it,” she said.  “Either just to sign up, or to bring this information to their parish groups.  Anything will help.”

[Editor’s note: For more information, or to sign the petition, contact Merry Nordeen at (781) 224-0404 or merry@gdwks.com.]

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