Politics & Media
Feb 11, 2015, 10:43AM

Pro-Life Republicans Against Vaccines

Vaccines save lives and should be mandatory.

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As news of the measles outbreak continues, there’s growing discussion over the increase in people not vaccinating their kids. One of the core talking points is a debate over mandatory vaccinations. What I find really interesting is that many right-wing pundits and politicians are making the argument that parents should have freedom of choice about vaccinating their kids. These same talking heads would eagerly describe themselves as “pro-life.”

Igniting the discussion was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), whose visit to a science company in England ended with a discussion with the press about the measles outbreak. He called for “some measure of choice” in regard to requirements that parents have their children vaccinated. During an appearance on CNBC, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (R) said, “I’m not arguing vaccines are a bad idea. I think they are a good thing. But I think the parent should have some input. The state doesn’t own our children. Parents own the children.”

These two politicians are “pro-life.” So I find their take on mandatory vaccines not only hypocritical, but also curious. It’s out of the desire to protect a woman’s right to abortion and reproductive healthcare access that the use of “pro-choice” came to be used. The concept of being “pro-choice” isn’t just semantic, but ideological as well. The foundation for the Roe v. Wade ruling itself is rooted in a patient’s right to privacy, and that the government doesn’t have the right to come between a female patient and her doctor regarding her personal choice of treatment. And if that choice means ending a pregnancy she doesn’t want or can’t handle, so be it.

So it’s strange to see people indentified as “pro-life” make use of the language of choice, particularly in the face of a potentially fatal illness. In a 2014 speech, Gov. Christie spoke to his fellow Republicans: “When we say we’re proudly pro-life, we have to be pro-life throughout our entire lives.” He went on to describe how it applies to education and employment opportunities, and leads one to assume that it must surely include healthcare. On his own website, Sen. Paul declares: “I am 100% pro-life. I believe life begins at conception and that abortion takes the life of an innocent human being.” Measles also has the potential to take the life of an innocent human being.

In 1988, author Roald Dahl penned an open letter to the people of the United Kingdom, urging them to vaccinate their children. In the letter, he describes the 1962 death of his seven-year-old daughter, Olivia, from measles. Her decline was rapid, succumbing to the disease within a day of exhibiting the first symptoms. In his letter, he reminds us that even when the measles isn’t deadly, it is still very dangerous, and can result in permanent physiological damage.

If there’s anyone who needs to heed this lesson the most, it might be Laura Ingraham. In discussing Gov. Christie’s remarks on her radio show, she dismissed the dangers of the measles outbreak: “Measles is fairly manageable… Measles is not generally a deadly disease… I know a bunch of kids in our school growing up had measles, and chicken pox… I just don’t think it’s that big of a deal.” In fairness to Ingraham, modern medicine has made measles considerably less lethal. However, I feel she’s doing the members of her audience a dangerous disservice by downplaying the risk.

In a recent interview, Melinda Gates gave some insight into both the fears of the Third World and the privileges of the First World: “Women in the developing world know the power of [vaccines]. They will walk 10 kilometers in the heat with their child and line up to get a vaccine, because they have seen death. [Americans have] forgotten what measles deaths look like.”

It’s in Gates’ words that I also see the irony of the positions the right wing takes about women’s healthcare choices. The movement to legalize abortion didn’t solely come from the danger posed by “back alley” abortions. It also came from women facing risky pregnancies who had no choice but to die so that the fetus might live. The push for birth control didn’t just come from a desire for a more easily planned life, it also came from women who desperately needed more recovery time between pregnancies, or if pursuing pregnancy at all was a health risk.

In the face of those risks, the Republican Party has made pro-life a major component of that platform. On the state level, they haven’t shied away from legislation that compromises women’s choices to end their pregnancies. It appears the goal is to spam the states with increasing red tape to the point that the Supreme Court will eventually have to revisit Roe v. Wade. Even if they don’t succeed in overturning the law, there’s the appearance of satisfaction in over-regulating abortion into impracticality. The Republicans need to stop calling themselves “pro-life” if they’re not going to take that position consistently. If Gov. Christie really believes that being pro-life pertains to life beyond the womb, then vaccinations have been proven to be as pro-life as it gets.

  • Biggest problem with this debate is that all vaccines are not created equal. Should the HPV vaccine be mandatory? I don't think it has been around long enough to agree with that. What about the flu shot? I don't think that should be required either. As for measles, I'm willing to be convinced that it is safe enough to mandate but let's not pretend it is a cure-all. I had the measles vaccine and still contracted measles at age 18. It is not the all or nothing debate that either side likes to argue.

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  • This article's line of reasoning is so bad I had to create an account: First of all- not that this need be mentioned- pro-life refers to the idea that the conceived and unborn should have some rights as the conceived and born. The "right to privacy" has never been invoked by the right as justification for being pro-life. Like, ever. Secondly, even if the right fundamentally believes in the "right to privacy" (we generally don't), you seem to neglect the idea that the huge gulf between prohibitive laws and prescriptive laws. As in, "no, you may not kill that other person" and "no, you may not tell me to buy this thing." Third, if the right were to support the "right to privacy" you seem to forget that in abortion there are two WHOLLY SEPARATE genetic materials. Two wholly separate entities. That is a scientific fact. Finally, I love how hacks the country over are trying to spin this latest vaccine fad as some right-wing casus belli when everyone knows it's the "misguided Marin County hot tubbers" who make up the preponderance of the anti-vaxxers. It really is a shame that lefties have to convince themselves that the right simply hates women and that's why they don't want the largest genocide in the history of mankind to take place.

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  • You're going to disagree with me but I think most, if not all, vaccines should be mandatory. Given the disease's airborne transfer, I do believe the vaccine should be mandatory. I don't know enough about the HPV vaccine to argue that it should be mandatory. However, if there is one reason I would encourage parents to have their kids vaccinated for HPV it's this: the only effective test we have for carriers is via cervical mucus, which means there's no way for men to be tested for this until after they've already developed oral cancer.

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  • I think you may have misunderstood me: the reference to the right to privacy was in reference to the pro-choice argument, as out lined in the Roe v. Wade ruling: "...right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment's concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the district court determined, in the Ninth Amendment's reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy." There it is, right there in the ruling.

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  • I don't know that they need to be mandatory (as in, people get fined or some such for not having them.) If you make it more difficult to opt out for school though you drop the level of people not getting vaccinated by a lot, and solve most problems. You can make it harder to opt out without making it mandatory and end up with a safe (almost universal) vaccination rate, is my understanding.//Also, this is a good piece!

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