By Douglas W. Phillips, Director of Government Affairs, National Center for Home Education
On February 1, 1993, the New York Times leaked plans by the Clinton Administration to draft a proposal which would require that all children be registered at birth in a centralized computer databank and vaccinated shortly thereafter. The plans are being drafted for the Clinton Administration by Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Senator Don Riegle (D-MI). Kennedy spokesman Keith Powell told the National Center for Home Education that a primary goal of the bill was to create a “registry with the capacity to do tracking and surveillance.” Powell indicated that a religious exemption from mandatory vaccinations would not be included in the bill. In response to a question about enforcement mechanisms against parents who do not immunize, Powell stated that the law would be designed so that “if a child does not show up and get a vaccination, bells and whistles will go off.”
A similar measure was recently introduced in the House of Representatives. On February 17, 1993, Virginia Congressman Leslie Byrne submitted her bill under the guise of an “immunization entitlement program.” Like the proposed Kennedy/Clinton plan, Byrne’s H.R.940 would create a “national immunization registry system” under the direction of the Center for Disease Control. The bill states that “the purpose of the system is to provide for national surveillance of childhood immunization status through age six.”
The bill would require that the Secretary for the Center for Disease Control must develop a “registry to cover the entire Nation,” with “the capacity to link and process all birth certificate records through a central registry.” The Secretary would also be required to develop “projects to assess techniques for tracking children in mobile populations across geographic areas.” Of particular concern to parents will be Section 9 (D) of the bill which seems to indicate that private doctors will be required by law to report to the national registry families who have not vaccinated their children.
Under present state laws, mandatory immunization enforcement is linked to the public school system. Children who have not been subjected to the state-mandated vaccinations are not permitted to attend school. Until recently there has been no enforcement mechanism that would require parents to vaccinate their home school children. The Clinton plan would remove linkage of vaccination enforcement and the public school system.
If the Clinton or Byrne vaccination bills become federal law, parents who chose not to immunize a child could be found guilty of neglect in a court of law and have their children removed from the home by the Department of Social Services. As recently as this February, parents have been found guilty of child neglect under various state laws for refusing to vaccinate their children.
On February 15, 1993, the Wall Street Journal reported that a New York judge ruled that the failure to immunize a pre-school child constitutes child abuse. In that case, a father’s “failure to have [his daughter] vaccinated against measles in the midst of a measles outbreak or epidemic caused [her] to be a ‘neglected child’ within the meaning of the law.” Outside of that lapse, Judge Gloria Dabiri commented, the father was a “diligent, loving and concerned parent.” Judge Dabiri rejected the father’s claim that he was exempt from the law because of strong religious convictions against vaccinations. Once the judge ruled that the father was guilty of neglect for refusing to immunize his child, she had the option of placing the child in a foster home or under social service agency supervision, although she declined both options in this case.
The decision by Judge Dabiri reflects the sentiment of many of the leaders of the child’s rights movement who advocate the criminal prosecution of parents for refusing to vaccinate their children. In her New York Times editorial, “The Immunity Myth,” Robin Marantz Henig suggests that dramatic steps must be taken to require that every child is immunized. “The first step,” Henig writes, “is changing people’s attitudes about immunization. It needs to be thought of as a civic duty, and failure to immunize must be considered tantamount to child abuse.”
Federally mandated immunization is likely to be a serious new battleground in the fight for parental rights and the sanctity of the home. Within the home-schooling community is a large population of parents who have reservations about the wisdom of vaccinations. As the State increasingly assumes a role in which it not only provides medical services, but mandates individual health care, there will be less tolerance in the courts for parents who question the current wisdom on child care. Moreover, what many social service workers who are suspicious of home schoolers have been unable to do under state compulsory attendance laws, they may now be able to do under a federally mandated vaccination law-namely, remove children from the homes of “radical fundamentalist” parents.