HB 3063A: the pro-choice position

The Joint Committee on Ways and Means will be considering a newly amended version of Oregon’s vaccine legislation today, at 9am in Hearing Room F. On Wednesday, its Subcommittee On Human Services approved three amendments A49, A50, and A52 which you can read here, here, and here respectively.

I’ve seen a couple of people I know who are pro-life on abortion take the pro-choice stance on this issue, making me wonder how thoroughly they have thought it through. Universal vaccination is a necessary condition for the eradication of diseases, several of which kill innocent, vulnerable people, people as dependant on the law to protect them as a baby at an abortion clinic that has been targeted for elimination. So there is more at stake here than the individual parent’s choice of whether or not to get her children vaccinated.

There are some people who cannot be vaccinated. Their lives depend on the existence of a public good called herd immunity when the number of people lacking immunity becomes too small for a disease to spread. Our recent measles outbreak exposes a classic free-rider problem where anti-vaxxers have made their children needlessly dependent on the existence of herd immunity too, but the growth of a romantic rejection of modern medicine threatens not only their own children but also everyone else who doesn’t have a choice, the children and adults that cannot be vaccinated.

The pro-choice position rejects the existence of a public interest in imposing a duty on parents to save a life. In contrast, the pro-life position imposes a duty on women who find themselves in an unwanted situation, a duty to see to their child’s full gestation, whether they want to be a mother or not. From the careful user of a 99.99% effective birth control that results in an improbable pregnancy to a victim of rape who conceives against her will, and every other scenario where a woman does not want to carry a child but finds herself bearing one anyway, the pro-life position asserts there is more to abortion than an adult’s choice. The baby has a separate set of rights that put a constraint on the range of legitimate choices available to the child’s mother. The baby’s right to life is a form of public health.

It’s a philosophically similar situation when anti-vaxxers choose to deny other human beings the ability to live by choosing to undermine the public health that comes from herd immunity. More than 365 children die from measles every day globally. HB 3063A offers Oregon a means of preventing that from happening locally. True pro-lifers should not oppose this by saying “it’s my baby; it’s my choice.”

Eric Shierman lives in Salem and is the author of We were winning when I was there.