CA Democratic Convention: Marginalized group challenges party to stand for “health choice”

20150516_114734_resizedAt this weekend’s state party convention, California Democrats went out of their way to acknowledge marginalized groups and affirm their commitment to a woman’s right to choose.

“It’s a lack of respect,” House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi said of why Republicans continue to press for restrictions on reproductive rights and undermine what she described as “choice issues.” “Respect for our judgment, our dignity, respect for our sentiment of responsibility.”

Yet, marginalized activists who support maintaining a personal belief exemption from mandatory vaccinations say that Democratic lawmakers aren’t respecting their right to choose. Opponents of Senate Bill 277 protested outside of the Anaheim Convention Center Saturday, with homemade signs and loud chants echoing the party’s position on health choice. Rather than gain acceptance from a party that champions marginalized groups, opponents of SB277 found themselves facing derisive comments from convention delegates.

“They (California Democrats) are definitely being hypocritical on this issue,” said Aaron Mills, a member of the California Coalition for Health Choice. “Democrats usually champion for the minorities. When it comes to this group, it’s “just go away and stop complaining.”

He added, “You can’t force somebody to take a product with known risks. … I don’t really feel compelled to vaccinate my day-old infant for a sexually transmitted disease.”

SB277: Reframing the debate

The debate over California’s immunization requirements began in January, following a measles outbreak at Disneyland, which coincidentally is just down the block from this weekend’s convention. As of March, California public health officials had confirmed 133 measles cases since December, according to National Public Radio.

The Disneyland measles outbreak encouraged Senator Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, to introduce SB277, a bill to end the personal belief exemption which gives parents the power to opt-out of mandatory vaccinations for schoolchildren.

20150516_114725_resizedFor months, opponents of the legislation have stumbled in their public rhetoric and legislative strategy. Some of the bill’s opponents tracked – arguably stalked – a lobbyist throughout the Capitol. Lawmakers and their staff members were inconvenienced by lengthy committee hearings. This past Thursday, the bill passed the state Senate on a 25-10 vote, with only two Democrats opposed.

However, at this weekend’s California Democratic Party state convention, concerned parents refined their argument to a message of choice.

“Are you aware that California Senate Bill 277 is moving its way through legislation right now that will remove your right to choose on vaccines?” reads a flyer distributed by protestors. “Where there’s a risk, there must be choice!”

Another handout asks, “Are California Democrats a party of choice or force?”

Both of those messages mirror the words of the California Democratic Party’s official platform, which states, “We proudly and vigorously support a woman’s right to choose how to use her mind, her body and her time.”

Democratic Senators prioritize public safety over choice

20150516_114652_resizedState Senator Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, a principal co-author of the bill, has argued that public safety should trump choice.

“The high number of unvaccinated students is jeopardizing public health not only in schools but in the broader community,” Allen said in a press release earlier this year.” We need to take steps to keep our schools safe and our students healthy.”

Allen’s arguments don’t sit well with some Democrats, who see it as government intervening in their personal health decisions.

“Never in a million years did I think my fellow Democrats would vote to take away my constitutional rights as a parent,” read one Democratic woman’s homemade sign. “Vaccination decisions are between a parent and their doctor, not the government. Opposition to SB277 will not go away even if it passed.”

During Saturday’s rally, supporters of the personal belief exemption chanted, ” We’re not going away! We’re not going away!” Yet, some Republicans are hoping that the issue could drive parents to leave the Democratic Party. A few members of the California Republican Assembly set up a table near the rally with a sign indicating their support for parental rights.

SB277 Opponents: Don’t call us anti-vaxxers

In addition to their frustration with Democrats abandoning “choice,” opponents of SB277 say that the party’s elected officials are being disrespectful to their cause by using the pejorative term, “anti-vaxxer.”

“This media stigma that is attached to it,” Mills, a member of the Democratic Party and opponent of mandatory vaccination, explained why he objected to the term. “It might be the most loathed group in the country. It’s definitely a minority group that no one looks fondly upon.”

According to Google search trends, there has been a dramatic spike in use of the term since the Disneyland measles outbreak. So, what should people call them?

“We’re not anti-anything,” Mills said. “We’re for health choice.”

California Democratic Party: Health Choice Rally



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