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Michigan Republicans Manage to Spread Vaccination and Abortion Myths in One Bill

Auditi Guha

Prominent members of the anti-vaccine movement—spreading misinformation about the alleged dangers of vaccines—have close ties to groups that oppose abortion rights. 

Michigan legislators are considering a bill that may be the first of its kind—one that deploys misinformation about the safety of vaccinations and the use of aborted fetal tissue.

Introduced last week by Republicans, SB 1055 requires informed consent for vaccines produced from aborted fetal tissue, an issue raised by those who push the myth that vaccines cause autism. It would require health-care providers to inform patients of their origins in fetal cell linings before administering such vaccines.

Right to Life of Michigan, an anti-choice organization, is pushing the bill using deceptive, unscientific language like “abortion-tainted vaccines” and “aborted babies” to refer to certain vaccines produced in the 1960s using the lung cell linings from legally aborted fetuses. These include the FDA-approved strains MRC-5 and WI-38, used all over the world to create vaccines for diseases like rubella, measles, mumps, poliovirus, hepatitis A, and rabies.

“All I can say is that Michigan Right to Life appears to be more obsessed over the origins of two cell lines over 50 years ago from two aborted fetuses than they are about protecting children living now from disease and death,” Dr.  David Gorski, a professor and surgical oncologist in Detroit, told Rewire.News.

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These vaccines were legally derived from human fetal lung cell lines in the 1960s, Gorski wrote in a 2015 Science-Based Medicine article, and any claims from anti-choice activists about the use of “fetal parts” is “fear mongering” and “a distortion of the real situation.”

“Bills like this are almost always designed to frighten parents from vaccinating by presenting vaccines as somehow hopelessly contaminated. In some cases, it’s scary-sounding chemicals. In others it’s mercury. This time around it’s ‘aborted fetal tissue’ supposedly morally compromising the vaccines that use the WI-38 and MRC-5 cell lines to the point where anything they touch can’t be used. Even the Catholic Church doesn’t go that far,” Gorski said.

He criticized the GOP bill in a blog post debunking falsehoods that contain just enough grain of truth to them to sound plausible and convincing to some people.” He said this bill is an example of how anti-vaccine activists invoke “informed consent” and “information.” “In reality, this is yet another version of what I prefer to refer to as ‘misinformed consent,’ in which the facts are presented in an intentionally distorted fashion designed to persuade parents to reject vaccines,” Gorski wrote.

Rewire.News has reported on the prevalence of anti-choice and anti-vaccine pseudoscience, revealing fake researchers and journals that push the anti-choice agenda. Some prominent members of the anti-vaccine movementspreading misinformation about the alleged dangers of vaccineshave close ties to groups that oppose abortion rights. 

Theresa Deisher, a molecular biologist and ally of anti-choice organizations, “claims that many vaccines can trigger autism because they were once manufactured in human fetal cell lines,” Rewire.News‘ Sofia Resnick reported in March 2017. 

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2016 launched a campaign against fetal tissue research based largely on a discredited propaganda campaign from an anti-choice front group. The so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives dealt in myths about how fetal tissue is procured and used for medical purposes as part of the GOP’s attack on reproductive health-care providers. 

Anti-vaccination activists were blamed for the worst measles outbreak in decades last year in Minnesota, the Washington Post reported. Similar groups are being blamed for measles outbreaks in Europe this year, according to Popular Science.

Prompted by a measles outbreak in Disneyland in 2014, California legislators passed a law making vaccination mandatory for children attending public schools. Last year, it led to the highest vaccination rate among California kindergartners since at least 1998, the Los Angeles Times reported.

All 50 states have some kind of legislation requiring vaccines for students. Almost all allow medical exemptions, and about 18 allow philosophical exemptions, according to a December 2017 study by the National Conference of State Legislatures. With protections already in place, advocates wonder why Michigan needs an informed consent law on the books.

Physician groups like the American Medical Association (AMA) stress that vaccinations are crucial for public health to suppress and prevent outbreaks of diseases like measles, mumps, and rubella. “We know that vaccinations are safe and effective. We know their benefits far outweigh any risks. And we know that as physicians, we must encourage our patients to listen to the science and facts behind this issue,” a past president of the AMA stated in an AMA news article.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization take similar positions and recommend immunizations as “one of the most cost-effective health interventions available, saving millions of people from illness, disability, and death each year.”

Evidence-based journalism is the foundation of democracy. Rewire.News, is devoted to evidence-based reporting on reproductive and sexual health, rights and justice and the intersections of race, environmental, immigration, and economic justice.

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