Oregon Senate Approves Bill Requiring Parent Education on Vaccinations

Oregon's state Senate voted last week to approve a bill which would require parents to visit a doctor or watch an educational video before allowing their children to opt out of vaccination treatments, a move that some lawmakers argue violates religious freedom.

"Not only are we stomping on First Amendment rights, the freedom of religion, we are actually stomping on a right of a person to dictate their own health care," Sen. Fred Girod (R-Stayton) said in opposition to Senate Bill 132, which passed Oregon's Democrat-controlled Senate Thursday in a 16-13 vote along party lines, with one Senate Republican excused.

"We are tromping on the rights of a parent to dictate what's best for their kids. We are elevating doctors to gods," Sen. Girod added, according to Oregon Live.

"I'm getting very tired of this legislative assembly and this body taking away the choices of parents as to how they raise their kids," Sen. Jeff Kruse (R- Roseburg) also said in opposition to the bill, according to The Associated Press.

A major sticking point for Republicans regarding the bill was the argument that it does not offer enough protection to religious groups that don't believe in vaccinations.

The text of the bill requires every child attending school in Oregon to submit to an administrator either evidence that the child has received the immunization or, if the child chooses to opt out of the immunization for religious reasons, evidence that the child's guardian has been provided information regarding the dangers of forgoing immunization.

A doctor or an online video produced by the Health Authority are acceptable modes of informing the parents of immunization risks and benefits.

As The Register-Guard notes, S.B. 132 differs greatly from current state law, which allows parents to reject a vaccine on religious grounds by simply signing a form.

According to AP, the purpose of the bill is to persuade parents to have their children vaccinated, especially because Oregon has the nation's highest rate of parents refusing vaccinations for their kindergarten-aged children on nonmedical grounds.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 6.4 percent of Oregon kindergartens were exempt from receiving at least one vaccination this year, while last year 5.8 percent of children were exempt.

This figure has reportedly increased steadily over the past decade for the state.

Those supporting Senate Bill 132 argue that vaccines are necessary to prevent the return of past diseases, such as whooping cough, measles, or the chicken pox.

Additionally, proponents of the bill argued that a similar piece of legislation in Washington in 2011 helped to reduce the number of children exempt from vaccines for religious reasons by 25 percent.

"It is not an unreasonable imposition," said Democratic Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, a family physician and major backer of the bill.

 "It is not a denial of religious liberty to require that people get accurate information so that they can make an informed choice for their children," Howard added.

The bill will now go to the Democrat-majority House and, if it passes, on to Democratic governor John Kitzhaber for approval.

If the bill passes, it will be put into effect in January 2014.