At least six US States are trying to prohibit parents from citing religious or personal beliefs to avoid vaccinating their children.
State legislatures in New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, Minnesota and Iowa are all looking at bills that would only allow exemptions from vaccinations for medical reasons determined by the child’s doctor.
RT reports: Faced with a health scare in the form of measles, a highly contagious and easily transmitted respiratory infection, lawmakers have been in a hurry to pass laws that would limit or outlaw any exemptions from vaccination that are not rooted in medical reasons.
On Monday, a bill aimed at ending non-medical exemptions passed the Oregon House after weeks of fierce debate. The bill will now have to go through the Senate before it can be signed into law. Oregon has not been at the center of the outbreak, with only 14 reported cases as of April 22, but it did not stop lawmakers from sounding an alarm over the issue, amid the general spike in cases.
Out of 764 reported cases in the US, the majority originated from the state of New York, having hit predominantly Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg County, Rockland County and Queens where residents are averse to vaccinations. New York City and nearby Rockland County have declared emergencies over the outbreak, which saw officials shut down schools and introduce a range of punitive measures, including fines and public bans in a bid to combat the rapid spread of the disease.
Bills to limit vaccination exemptions to various degrees have been introduced in Washington, Colorado, Arizona, New Jersey, New York, Maine and Connecticut.
In Connecticut, draft legislation by House Majority Leader Democrat Matt Ritter, that outlaws religious exemptions, received a nod from the state’s Attorney General.
William Tong, Connecticut’s Attorney General, issued a ruling on the proposed law on Monday, stating that “the law is clear that the State of Connecticut may create, eliminate or suspend the religious exemption.”Although non-binding, Tong’s blessing might come in handy to Ritter as he faces tough opposition from advocates of the freedom of religion and anti-vaxxers. Speaking in March Ritter vowed that the Connecticut General Assembly would vote on the bill in the next 12 months. It’s unclear if the vote will take place in the ongoing session that wraps up on June 5.
The chances of his bill becoming law are difficult to evaluate since there is a strong opposition to getting rid of the religious objections clause.
In Maine, an attempt by Democrats to streamline a bill that would have outlawed all non-medical exemptions failed last week after the state Senate voted against eliminating religious grounds, while agreeing to end exemptions for “philosophical reasons.”
While opposition to the legislation has been mostly partisan, some prominent Democrats –such as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo– have raised concerns about whether removing the religious exemption would be in line with the First Amendment.
“(Does) government have the right to say you must vaccinate your child because I’m afraid your child can infect my child even if you don’t want it done and even if it violates your religious beliefs?” Cuomo told WAMC-FM in an interview in April, noting that it was “a serious First Amendment issue.”
Despite a renewed push to scrap non-medical exemptions, only three states – California, Mississippi and West Virginia – have so far outlawed the practice.