Berkeley High art teacher Miriam Stahl has created a design that could appear on special pro-women license plates in California. Photo: NARAL

A Berkeley High School art teacher’s latest canvas is a license plate.

Miriam Klein Stahl, well-known for illustrating the best-selling Rad Women books, is one of three artists whose designs promoting reproductive rights could appear on special California license plates, if a bill from state Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson becomes law. Only one of the artists’ designs will make the cut, and Californians can vote online for their favorites. The other artists in the competition are Mimi Pond and Juana Alicia.

Already passed by the senate, Jackson’s SB 309 would direct the Department of Motor Vehicles to offer decorated plates that say “California Trusts Women,” as long as 7,500 motorists order them. Proceeds from the sales of the plates — which would cost $50 to purchase and $40 to renew —would support the state’s Family Planning, Access Care and Treatment program for low-income residents.

“SB 309 will provide a way for Californians who are deeply troubled by the federal attack on women’s rights and health care to take their values ‘to the street’ while providing a vital funding mechanism for California’s network of reproductive health care providers,” said Jackson, who represents Santa Barbara, in a press release.

Pro-choice organization NARAL, which is sponsoring the bill, commissioned possible plate designs from three California artists, including Stahl.

“We went to our community and connections, and looked at people who we thought were great artists and thought would be interested in lending their voice to the cause,” said Rebecca Griffin, NARAL’s associate director of California programs.

Stahl, who teaches in BHS’s Arts and Humanities Academy, did not have to think hard about participating in the project when NARAL approached her in the spring.

“Especially in these times, when abortion clinics and women’s health are so under attack nationwide, for California to make such a bold act as to put it on cars driving around, I thought, ‘I totally want to be a part of that,'” she said.

Her submission is an image of two female protesters holding a sign that says “Trust Women” against a bright yellow background.

“It’s quite a design challenge to represent a woman’s right to choose on a license plate,” Stahl said.

The design she came up with is a riff on the original cover of the reproductive health bible Our Bodies, Ourselves. Stahl’s daughter is related to one of the authors, so the book has always been an important one in their family, she said.

Voting will be open until the end of July and possibly through August or September, Griffin said. A vote on the license plate design signs one up as a member of NARAL, but there are no required costs or other associated obligations, she said.

With this potential law, California could become just the second state to offer a pro-choice specialty plate, after Virginia. (The state program the plates would support does not cover abortions, but the messaging around the initiative is pro-choice.) Twenty-nine states currently offer “Choose Life” license plates, many of which support anti-abortion programs.

California already offers several other special interest plates, including those supporting environmental causes and law enforcement.

While she waits to hear the outcome of the vote, Stahl is staying busy with other projects this summer. She is finishing up illustrations for My Rad Life: A Journal, due out in August from Ten Speed Press. The journal, written by Kate Schatz, who worked with Stahl on the other Rad books, will include writing and doodling prompts and feature some of the female leaders and activists who appear in their other work.

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Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...