This week, Maine’s Senate voted 18-17 to remove religious exemptions from the state’s school vaccination law. Supporters of the bill argued it was necessary because religious exemptions put others at risk.
If Gov. Janet Mills (D) signs it into law, Maine will become the fourth state (following California, Mississippi and West Virginia) to ban all non-medical exemptions.
“Tuesday’s vote followed an impassioned debate by opponents, who said ending the religious exemption, as well as a philosophical exemption, would send thousands of families packing while doing little to improve public health or protect children from preventable diseases.
The mostly party-line vote, with Republicans in opposition and Democrats favoring the change, saw three Democrats join Republicans in a failed effort to preserve the religious exemption. But one Democrat who supported the exemption in a vote last week changed his position Tuesday, altering the results.”1
Maine has one of the lowest vaccination rates among children entering kindergarten in the nation; for the 2018-19 school year, 5.6 percent of Maine children entering kindergarten had non-medical exemptions.
Sen. James Dill, D-Old Town, a scientist who works for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said he was willing to change his position on the bill because he believed expanding categories of medical exemptions would satisfy most of the concerns he and many others had with the immunization requirements and schedule. However, that didn’t work out too well in California.
He did say however that “There needs to be more testing of newborns for known genetic or other disorders, which may cause problems, which people then may link to vaccination. The tests all need to be covered by insurance.”1 (Also that spacing of vaccines, per child, was appropriate.)
“Opponents of the bill said the relatively small number of people taking a religious exemption in Maine has had no statistical impact on increased exposure to preventable diseases. Sen. David Miramant, D-Camden said many parents have obtained only partial exemptions and do vaccinate their children, although they may opt out of some of the vaccines or place their children on a schedule that is not compliant with the state’s regulation.
Miramant contended that 97 to 98 percent of students in Maine were receiving all or some of their vaccines. ‘We are in a range that should satisfy you and should not have you wanting to take away the choice of the people,’ he said.”1
But in an erosion of religious freedom and a direct attack on parental rights, the religious right to choose is now gone.
Sen. Brad Farrin, R-Skowhegan, said, “Fundamentally, this vote isn’t about public health – it’s about how far is too far for the government to reach into our personal lives. A vote against this bill isn’t a vote against vaccinations – it’s a vote in support of parental choice and religious freedoms.”1
Our hearts go out to all the parents in Maine forced with making next steps about what’s best for their children. We stand with you.