New York is moving closer to eliminating a religious exemption to vaccine requirements in the face of the nation’s worst measles outbreak in decades.
The Democrat-led Assembly voted Thursday to repeal the exemption, which allows parents of children to cite their religious beliefs to opt a child out of the vaccines required for enrollment in a public or private school.
The Senate is expected to pass the bill later in the day. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has said he will sign the measure and could act on the legislation as soon as Thursday night.
Similar exemptions are allowed in 46 states, though lawmakers in several of them are also considering the elimination of the waiver.
“We are facing an unprecedented public health crisis,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan and the sponsor of the legislation in the Senate. “The atrocious peddlers of junk science and fraudulent medicine who we know as anti-vaxxers have spent years sowing unwarranted doubt and fear, but it is time for legislators to confront them head on.”
New York State Assembly Member Simcha Eichenstein said believes in vaccinating children, but voted against legislation that would repeal all non-medical exemptions from vaccination requirements for children.
While being at the forefront of urging community members to vaccinate during the recent measles outbreak, Eichenstein raised first amendment concerns with legislating when one’s religious beliefs apply, despite him making clear there is no religious restriction on vaccinating.
“We are here debating something that is beyond the scope of a legislature. Because in America, we have a guarantee of religious freedom that surpasses any other nation on this planet. It is dangerous for a legislative body to pick and choose when New Yorkers have their First Amendment Rights and when they don’t, because in the United States of America, we do not legislate religious beliefs,” said Eichenstein.