Opinion: No, the abortion debate isn’t anything like the vaccine debate

Opponents of legislation to tighten the rules on giving exemptions for vaccinations demonstrate outside the office of Gov. Gavin Newsom in Sacramento on Sept. 9.
Opponents of legislation to tighten the rules on giving exemptions for vaccinations demonstrate outside the office of Gov. Gavin Newsom in Sacramento on Sept. 9.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

It happened a few weeks ago, when many readers responded angrily to a brief, flippant letter asking why it’s acceptable for dogs but not humans to relieve themselves in public. This week it’s happening again, only the topic is far weightier: In response to a three-sentence letter asking what the difference is between the freedom to choose on abortion and the freedom to choose on childhood vaccination, several readers wrote forceful responses.

As I noted with the responses on dogs, sometimes it’s the short, more flippant letters that surprisingly provoke a backlash. In this case, I confess that I suspected we would get some pointed replies.

So, what makes choice on abortion different from choice on vaccination? Here’s what readers say.


Julia Springer of Santa Barbara points out that abortion is a constitutional right:

Choices on vaccination and abortion are fundamentally dissimilar.

There is still a constitutional right to choose to have an abortion; there is no constitutional or legal right that allows someone to send an unvaccinated child to school. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that schools can require vaccinations.

Decisions on vaccination are not just a personal issue but also have public health consequences that can affect hundreds if not thousands of others. Having an abortion is an intensely personal decision made only by the pregnant woman and does not impair the health and welfare of the community at large.

In 1964, I had an abortion because a mother on my street chose not to vaccinate her children, who passed rubella onto me when I was pregnant. Their choice impacted me in a heartbreaking way.

Steve Pravdo of Pasadena says we don’t hear of unwanted abortion epidemics:

A letter writer asks how vaccination is different from abortion with regard to the state getting between a doctor and their patient.

It would be no different if a woman getting an abortion led to an epidemic of unwanted abortions among the general population. It doesn’t.

Sylmar resident Bob Lentz explains why the government cares about vaccination:

A writer to the L.A. Times does not comprehend the difference between the vaccination debate and the debate over abortion vis a vis government control. I’ll explain it to her.

The government enforces vaccination rules because unvaccinated children pose a threat to the life and health of others. Therefore, the government has a legitimate role.

The government, however, should have no control over a woman’s right to have an abortion, because her decision affects only herself and her partner. Got it?

Maryanne Rose of Laguna Niguel makes a similar point:

A woman’s decision to abort has an effect on a small circle of friends and family. On the other hand, a decision to not vaccinate can have an effect on the entire community.

The current measles outbreak is a perfect example of the dangerous consequences of misinformed anti-vaxxers.