Maine law removes religious exemptions for vaccinations

shutterstock 1066303739 Child vaccination. | Tatevosian Yana/Shutterstock

Maine voters Tuesday upheld a ban on exemptions to the requirement that students in Maine schools be vaccinated.

Voters in the state rejected an effort to overturn a state law that will go into effect next September. The law eliminates parents' ability to opt-out of the state's school enrollment vaccination requirement because of their philosophical or religious beliefs. 

LD 798 passed in May 2019. Under the law, a child must be vaccinated to attend any school, public or private, unless there is a medical reason preventing vaccination, such as an allergy to an ingredient in the vaccine. 

The law does not mandate vaccinations; but does require them for school enrollment.

At the time of the law's passage, about nine out of 10 unvaccinated children in Maine were not vaccinated because of a parent's religious or philosophical objection to vaccinations. About one percent of unvaccinated children were unvaccinated due to a medical condition. 

Maine's overall unvaccinated rate of 6.2% is among the highest in the country, and its percentage of unvaccinated kindergarteners was three times the national average at the time of the bill's passage. 

LD 798 will now go into effect in September of 2021. The bill was signed by Gov. Janet Mills (D) last May after it was narrowly passed in the state senate. The bill was supported by most of the legislature's Democrats and opposed by most Republicans, although members of both parties voted both for and against the bill. 

After the bill passed, a statewide petition to overturn it led to the May 3 referendum vote.

In a statement after the result of that vote was announced, Gov. Mills praised the result.

"Tonight, the health and wellbeing of Maine children prevailed," Mills said. 

"This law leaves medical exemptions up to medical professionals and ensures that Maine children are better protected from the spread of dangerous communicable diseases. It is the right thing to do for the health and safety of our kids." 

As of Wednesday morning, with approximately 85% of Maine precincts reporting, 73% of Maine voters chose to uphold the ban, and 26% voted to overturn it.

The Diocese of Portland, Maine's sole Catholic diocese, did not respond to request for comment.

Some Catholics object to the use of vaccines that were initially researched and developed using cell lines derived from the bodies of children who were aborted.

In 2005, the Pontifical Academy for Life considered the moral issues regarding the origins of several vaccines in the document "Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared From Cells Derived From Aborted Human Foetuses." 

The academy concluded that it can be both morally permissible and morally responsible for Catholics to make use of some controversial vaccines.

"The duty to avoid passive material cooperation is not obligatory if there is grave inconvenience. Moreover, we find, in such a case, a. proportional reason, in order to accept the use of these vaccines in the presence of the danger of favoring the spread of the pathological agent, due to the lack of vaccination of children," the academy explained.

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The document also noted that Catholics have an obligation to use ethically-sourced vaccines when available, and when alternatives do not exist, they have an obligation to request the development of new cell lines that are not derived from aborted fetuses.

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