We reported last month on a proposed bill in California that would make child vaccinations a requirement for attendance in public and private schools. Following the news that the Senate passed the bill on May 14 in a 25-10 vote, the heated debate surrounding the issue has greatly intensified. Many people are arguing about the potential health risks associated with un- or under-vaccinated children matriculating in schools, but at the heart of this controversy is something wholly separate from epidemiology. It is, in fact, a question of which (if any) decisions the government should be able to remove from parents when it comes to how children are raised. It will be up to the California Assembly to determine what happens next.

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We here at Inhabitots, many of whom are parents, understand that there are many ins and outs to the question of whether or not, or how much, to vaccinate your children. Regardless of your family’s stance on the specific decisions related to vaccination, parents need to agree—and stand in solidarity—for the basic right to make those and other decisions about their childrens’ lives and health. If you scratch past the surface of the vaccination debate and look at the mechanics of SB-277 , a troubling reality becomes clear. What the bill does, in effect, is deny parents the rights to make certain medical decisions for their children, placing that responsibility in the hands of a government agency instead (in this case, the California State Department of Public Health, which sets the vaccination schedule for the state).

Translating it into rough terms, this bill means that the state government can and will tell its residents what will be injected into their child’s body, and parents will have absolutely no say in the matter. A parent’s only recourse would be to home school their children, which is clearly not an option every family can (or wants to) leverage.

Actress and parenting rights advocate Jenna Elfman summarizes the issue rather eloquently in this brief video statement, where she explains that she is a parent who vaccinates her children, yet she opposes any state or federal mandate that prevents parents from making decisions about their childrens’ health and well-being. In another video filmed days later, Elfman clarifies that parental rights are not a Republican or Democratic issue, but a human rights issue. She also observes that there is no impending medical emergency or epidemic that would require such an aggressive requirement, since the state’s vaccination rate is already over 90 percent, which is an interesting point regardless of where you stand on the choice to vaccinate or not.

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According to renowned pediatrician and author Dr. Bob Sears, California Assembly members are willing to listen to the public on this decision. In a Facebook post on May 21, “Dr. Bob” (as he is commonly known) relayed a conversation with an Assemblyman who urged the public to speak up and let their Assemblyman know whether they support or oppose this bill. As the doctor put it, “No arguments, no message points. Just that you oppose. That’s it.” Constituents living in California can have their voice heard via this website by finding their representative and sending an email.

At this point, as the Assembly prepares to vote on the bill, we can only hope they are able to see past the emotional debate and understand that, at its heart, this bill is counter to the freedom of individual choice that defines us as Americans.

Images via Pauline Bartolone/Capital Public Radio and DotFranny/Twitter.