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By Mary S. Holland
As a life-long Democrat, I was proud to watch the Democratic National Convention. Hillary Clinton and its other impressive speakers were eloquent, optimistic and inspiring.
Almost every speaker talked about children and about the importance of education as “the great equalizer.” We heard that every child deserves a great education, and that Clinton hopes to “break down every barrier that keeps us from joining hands.” The Democratic speakers argued passionately that Americans are “stronger together,” as a country and as part of the international community.
So it is with deepest sadness and dismay that I contemplate the California Democratic Party’s role in engineering the law called SB277. Passed by California’s Democratically-controlled Senate and Assembly, the law took effect July 1, 2016. Its effect is to exclude 30,000 children from school. It will force a total of 165,000 out of school over the next six years because their vaccination status does not match perfectly what the State mandates. The law treats partially vaccinated and unvaccinated children as unfit for any school, public or private, daycare through high school. Parents can comply fully, homeschool or leave the state.
As Age of Autism readers know, Democratic lawmakers proposed and passed this law because of a small California epidemic of measles in 2015. Forty subjects, adults and children, vaccinated and unvaccinated, were infected. Eventually, 150 cases of measles were deemed to have been caused by this episode. No one died. For the five years 2010-2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 11,092 cases of measles for the entire United States with a population of over 300 million.
Unvaccinated and selectively vaccinated children are healthy. If they develop a contagious childhood disease, they can be isolated at home, just as a vaccinated child with a contagious disease should be. If they are exposed to a contagious disease, they can remain at home for the duration of the incubation period. California law requires children to attend school. SB277 places a major obstruction in the path of this educational imperative.
It is the Democrats in California, not the Republicans, who are building an invisible wall to isolate and stigmatize children with exemptions. It is the Democrats, not Republicans, who have stoked fear of contagion. In hearings before the Senate and the Assembly, heartfelt pleas from mothers and fathers to preserve families’ rights to make critical medical decisions without coercion landed on deaf ears.
The Democratic Party rejects state laws that deprive a woman of her right to make decisions about her own healthcare. How can it deprive a mother and father of the right to make individualized medical choices for their infant or child?
The present law is defective. It would bar from school a child missing a single tetanus vaccine, which protects against a non-contagious disease. Similarly, the law would bar a child who has not received the requisite number of pertussis booster shots but whose antibody titers show she is immune. The law would force parents who oppose abortion to vaccinate their children with vaccines prepared in aborted fetal cell tissue. Implemented as drafted, SB277 represents a new form of irrational discrimination based on fear.
Tens of thousands of uneducated or undereducated children are far more dangerous to society than the risks of measles or chickenpox.
On August 12, at a preliminary injunction hearing, a federal judge in San Diego will decide whether the children affected by SB277 may continue to attend school or must stay home indefinitely. See court documents here.
I hope that judicial review of this law, applying the highest level of constitutional scrutiny, will help to set the record straight: healthy, non-contagious children should have the fundamental right to attend school under California and federal law. Then I hope that the Democratic Party, in California and elsewhere, will heed Hillary Clinton’s words at the Convention: “create access to education for all kids.”
The author is Research Scholar and Director of the Graduate Lawyering Program at the NYU School of Law. She testified before the California Senate Judiciary Committee against SB277 in 2015. To read documents in the case of Whitlow v. California, challenging SB277’s constitutionality, please visit the Education 4 All Foundation web site at http://www.edu4allnow.com.