Women’s Groups Split Over Texas Governor’s Vaccination Plan

By Beth Schwartzapfel

Published February 16, 2007, issue of February 16, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

In a surprise move, certain pro-choice women’s organizations — including the largest Jewish one — are joining Christian conservatives in criticizing the governor of Texas for requiring sixth-grade girls to be vaccinated against a cancer-causing sexually transmitted disease.

Governor Rick Perry, who is generally seen as a staunch ally of the Christian right, last week signed an executive order making Texas the first state to require vaccination against human papillomavirus, or HPV, which causes genital warts and in some cases is associated with the development of cell abnormalities and, later, cancer.

The order was promptly criticized by conservative Christian organizations. In subsequent days, many national women’s groups, including the largest Jewish one, Hadassah, also declined to support Perry’s initiative. In both camps, activists are couching their objections as a matter of protecting choice — a major fault line in the abortion debate, but a concept with the potential to unify erstwhile political enemies as states across the country debate whether to require the HPV vaccine.

Two exceptions are Jewish Women International and the National Council of Jewish Women, which, unlike Hadassah, are voicing support for Perry’s executive order.

“This is certainly something that NCJW is pleased about,” the council’s president, Phyllis Snyder, told the Forward. “This is responsible health and fiscal policy to provide these vaccines that are going to save lives. We congratulate [Perry] and commend him for choosing common sense over ideology.”

Many of the liberal organizations refusing to voice support for Perry, including the National Organization of Women, have been generally supportive of the vaccine but say they are averse to any government attempt to curb the freedom of choice, whether the issue is abortion or some other medical procedure.

“NOW has never agreed with any mandate on anything,” the organization’s press secretary, Mai Shiozaki, told the Forward.

Hadassah issued an informational statement on the vaccine, calling it a “breakthrough” and recommending “that you have a frank and open discussion with a health professional to make certain it is right for you or your loved one.”

The organization’s national public affairs director, Roberta Elliott, said that Hadassah was loath to be seen as endorsing any particular medical brand. When asked about claims that Perry’s executive order would limit the choices of families, she said, “All medical decisions are private decisions. The women’s choice issue is not one that we want the government involved in at any level.”

National and Texas chapters of Planned Parenthood and Naral Pro-Choice America did not return calls for comment.

The conservative Christian group Focus on the Family issued a statement in support of the HPV vaccine, but in opposition to making it mandatory. Cathie Adams, president of another conservative group, the Texas Eagle Forum, was quoted in the local press as saying she would fight to overturn the order.

“Would [girls who receive the vaccine] be more promiscuous? Chances are very good that they would be,” Adams told the Austin American-Statesman.

In Utah, conservative groups helped kill a similar bill that would have covered the vaccine for underinsured girls.

Perry has been seen as an ally of religious conservatives. In June 2005, he traveled to an evangelical school to sign an anti-abortion and an anti-gay-marriage bill. (In a botched attempt to include a Jewish voice, the governor’s staff invited David Stone, religious leader of Fort Worth’s “messianic Jewish” Congregation Beth Yeshua.)

Critics of Perry’s recent order note that his former chief of staff is now a lobbyist for Merck, the pharmaceutical company that produces the vaccine, known as Gardasil.

Approved last June, Gardasil provides almost 100% protection against four strains of HPV, which together account for 70% of cervical cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The vaccine is administered as three shots given over eight months, and it is effective for up to five years. It is approved for females aged 8 to 26, but the CDC specifically recommends vaccinating girls ages 11 and 12, in order to protect them before the start of sexual activity.

Merck stands to gain hundreds of millions of dollars from mandatory-vaccination laws. The three-shot series of Gardasil costs $360; making the series mandatory ensures that the vaccine will be covered by the federal Vaccines for Children program and by state Medicaid programs for low-income children.

When the CDC includes a vaccine on its schedule of those recommended, state legislatures often choose to require that all schoolchildren be vaccinated before entering school, even if the disease is not passed by casual contact. Vaccination against the hepatitis B virus, for instance, is required before entrance to middle or high school in 45 states, even though the virus is generally transmitted sexually. Most such requirements include an “opt out” provision, allowing parents to choose not to vaccinate their children for religious or other personal reasons. Eighteen states are considering such legislation for Gardasil.

“Mandatory means making it a routine thing, committing government support to it,” Wendy Chavkin, professor of clinical population and family health at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, told the Forward. “It’s a way to ensure that it’s not just for the privileged, it’s not just for those with health insurance or private care. It’s a real advance.”

Responding to critics who are wary of a policy that might be seen as impinging on choice, Chavkin said, “Isn’t that a kind of rinky-dink understanding of choice? Cervical cancer is a really nasty disease.”

With reporting by Jennifer Siegel.






Find us on Facebook!
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.