On Thursday lawmakers in the California State Assembly passed SB 277, a bill mandating that children in day care or school be vaccinated. The bill, which received 46 yeas and 30 noes, eliminates the personal-belief and religious exemptions, leaving intact only the medical exemption. Now the bill is in the hands of Gov. Jerry Brown, who is expected to sign it into law.
Influenced in part by the measles outbreak at Disneyland last December (which spread to more than 130 California residents, and sparked widespread condemnation of parents who do not vaccinate their children), the bill—proposed by Democratic state Sen. Richard Pan, a pediatrician—generated heated debate and extensive campaigning. In advance of today’s vote, some anti-vaccine advocates used social media to encourage harassment of lawmakers who support the bill, and Pan reported receiving threats. And while the ACLU of California remains neutral on the bill, its legislative director questioned if it would run counter to the right to public education.
The New York Times quoted Christina Hildebrand, the founder of A Voice for Choice, a nonprofit organization that has lobbied against the bill, about her unsuccessful campaign to stop this legislation:
There are large numbers of parents who are very concerned about the fact that we’re going to have mandated medical treatment against a fundamental right to education. Parental freedom is being taken away by this, because the fear of contagion is trumping it.
With the legislation, reports Southern California Public Radio, California looks to become the 32nd state to ban the personal-belief exemption and just the third, after West Virginia and Mississippi, to not have a religious exemption.*
The link between vaccines and autism, presented in a since-retracted 1998 study, has been widely discredited, but continues to be cited by anti-vaccine parents and celebrities. It’s likely anti-vaccine advocates will challenge this legislation, and point to the restrictions on personal and religious beliefs as unconstitutional. But as Slate’s Miriam Krule has pointed out, “It’s almost impossible to find a religion that has a clear anti-vaccine stance.”
The majority of Californians seem to favor the newly passed legislation, meant to protect children against preventable diseases. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, “Most California adults (67%) and public school parents (65%) say unvaccinated children should not attend public school. A large majority (87%) say vaccines are at least somewhat safe.”
*Correction, June 25, 2015: This post originally attributed information from Southern California Public Radio to the New York Times.