Anti-Vaccine and Anti-Abortion Go Hand in Hand

| Reproaction

By: Kara Mailman and Shireen Shakouri

To many, the anti-vaccine crowd may seem fringe—just quirky celebrities and ‘crunchy’ California moms buying in to the latest pseudo-science. [1] Look closer, however, and you’ll find that anti-vaccine advocates have found a home with another group fond of fake science: the anti-abortion movement.

These two groups have both made vaccines their enemy, with anti-abortion activists opposing vaccines largely because a handful — rubella, hepatitis A, chickenpox, shingles, and rabies — are made using fetal cell lines that are more than 50 years old. Their opposition comes despite the fact that the Catholic Church’s Pontifical Academy for Life has given the greenlight to the vaccines, referring to vaccination to protect public health as a moral good. [2] Other anti-abortion activists, however, have used their platform to amplify the anti-vaccine cause, including a congressional hearing on fetal tissue research where an affiliate of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List – an organization with close ties to the White House – opposed the use of fetal tissue for any scientific research, including vaccines. [3, 4]

Lila Rose, founder and president of the anti-abortion propaganda mill Live Action, has also dabbled in anti-vaccine fake science. Pinterest said her “misinformation related to conspiracies and anti-vaccination advice” was enough to get her group kicked off the platform, prompting Lila to falsely cry ‘censorship’ in the face of neutral application of policy against false speech by her organization and double down on claims that tech companies are stifling her anti-LGBT, anti-abortion, anti-science messaging. [5]

If the lies, conspiracies, and rhetoric stayed on the internet, that’d be one thing, but it never does. In the case of Lila, it escalates offline: her former employee, mentee, and friend David Daleiden is now facing felony charges in a California civil suit surrounding the videos he is alleged to have filmed illegally and doctored to disparage Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation. The vitriol surrounding his propaganda led to a marked increase in violence at abortion clinics that we’re still feeling to this day. The mass shooter who killed three at a Planned Parenthood health center in Colorado Springs in November 2015 quoted the rally cry from Daleiden’s videos upon conclusion of his rampage with a gun: “no more baby body parts.” Lila and her group still echo that phrase. [6-9]

Anti-vaccine rhetoric doesn’t stay online, either. The fervor against vaccines, fueled by lies peddled online by charlatans and opportunists, has had a hugely damaging effect. Where Shireen is from in New York, there was a measles outbreak that put the whole county in a state of emergency for months. [10] Through it all, clinicians, scientists, and everyone in the know repeated the medical consensus: the vaccine is a safe and effective way to prevent the measles, mumps, and rubella, which could be deadly or cause severe illness, including birth defects and pregnancy complications. [11] But like with anti-abortion extremists covering their ears to drown out the science of medication abortion being safe and effective, so too do vaccine deniers. And in some cases, anti-abortion activists and anti-vaccine activists are one and the same.

Regarding the case in New York, the anti-abortion American Association of Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) called the mandatory vaccination policy an “abuse of power,” claiming vaccines carried too many unknown risks. [12] This stance echoes that of many anti-abortion organizations like the American Association of Pro-Life OB-GYNs and Charlotte Lozier Institute, whose seemingly scientific and professional facades push junk science favoring conservative talking points over verifiable facts. In addition to promoting anti-vaccine rhetoric, AAPS has also claimed incorrectly that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer, alongside additional unsubstantiated claims that Barack Obama is a hypnotist. [13]

The combination of anti-vaccine and anti-abortion rhetoric makes sense: Both ignore science and spread potentially dangerous misinformation. As feminists and progressives, it’s our job to continue to call out the bogus ‘science’ being spread by the bubonic duo of anti-vaccine and anti-abortion nonsense and instead promote the simple fact that vaccines and abortions are both medically sound and safe.


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