After a hail of protests, three N.C. senators Wednesday withdrew their bill to expand childhood vaccinations and end a religious exemption for parents who oppose them.
“After hearing serious concerns about stricter vaccine and immunization requirements from our constituents and from citizens across the state, we have decided we will not move forward,” the three said in a statement. “The bill is dead.”
It was less than two weeks ago that Republican Sens. Jeff Tarte of Cornelius and Tamara Barringer of Cary, along with Democratic Sen. Terry Van Duyn of Asheville, introduced the bill to some fanfare.
But the fanfare quickly turned into a firestorm.
A few days later, dozens of protesters picketed the General Assembly. One carried a sign that said “Stop Medical Terrorism.” One protester called the bill draconian.
“I have religious exemption to vaccinations, and contrary to what Jeff Tarte says, it’s not a bogus exemption; it is my personally held religious belief that I should not vaccinate myself or my children,” Charlotte’s Lisa Jillani told North Carolina Health News.
Some conservatives called it “a slippery slope” that could lead to the end of other religious freedoms. Other critics opposed mandatory vaccines.
The bill was designed to bring North Carolina law up to current standards. It would, for example, add vaccinations for polio and influenza B to the list of those required.
In North Carolina, children must be immunized before attending public and private schools. Exemptions are allowed for medical or religious reasons. For the 2013-14 school year, 179 children received medical exemptions, and 1,204 got religious exemptions, according to the state's Department of Health and Human Services.
The bill came amid other debates over religion and public policy.
A Senate bill would exempt magistrates from marrying same-sex couples if they have a religious objection. And last week, House and Senate versions of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act were filed. The bills are similar to those sparking controversy in Indiana and other states. Supporters say it will protect people as they exercise the religious liberty guaranteed in the Constitution. Critics say it will give legal cover to businesses and individuals who discriminate against gays and lesbians.
Sponsors of the vaccine bill were inundated with calls and emails. Tarte said “the noise got so loud behind it” that they simply dropped it.
“It’s just easier to let the whole thing calm down,” he said. “Rather than do something harmful or wrong, it’s better to just leave it alone right now.”