Beliefs Ethics

Vaccines and abortion? The links are cloudy and complicated

A baby being vaccinated.

WASHINGTON (RNS) With measles outbreaks in 14 states and health authorities imploring parents to weigh the minimal risks of vaccines against the ravages of preventable disease, some Christians are raising an objection of a completely different sort: the abortion connection.


A baby being vaccinated.

Photo courtesy of Dmitry Naumov via Shutterstock

A baby being vaccinated.

The Internet rumors that claim vaccinations mean having tiny pieces of aborted fetuses injected into your body are flat-out wrong, yet there is a grain of truth in the assertion that vaccinations and abortions are linked.

Many of the most common vaccines, for rubella and chicken pox for example, are grown in and then removed from cells descended from the cells of aborted fetuses. Pregnant women aborted them about 40 years ago by choice, and not with the intent of aiding vaccine production.

Yet for some religious believers, those facts do not lift what they see as a moral prohibition against vaccination.

“West Virginians who object to abortion for religious or moral reasons have a right to refuse to inject abortion-related ingredients into their children,” states the website of the group West Virginians for Vaccine Exemption. West Virginia and Mississippi are the only two states that do not allow religious exemption for vaccinations.

In the rest of the nation, religious exemptions are far from rare. New Jersey, for example, where Gov. Chris Christie this week said he vaccinated his own children but stands behind the rights of parents not to, allowed nearly 9,000 school children whose parents claimed religious exemptions to go unvaccinated last year.

Health experts say even small pockets of unvaccinated children and adults can pose enormous public health risks, and point to the measles outbreak that began in Disneyland in December as but one piece of proof that nearly eradicated deadly childhood diseases will return as vaccination rates drop.

But where these scientific arguments fail, some religious authorities say there is still a moral, Christian calculus that can lead abortion opponents to choose vaccination in good conscience.

Eugene Rudd, MD, Senior VP, Christian Medical & Dental Associations. Photo courtesy of Dave Bushong

Dr. Eugene Rudd is senior vice president of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations. Photo courtesy of Dave Bushong

“I’m a follower of Christ, and the teachings of the Bible are the most important information that informs my thinking and my life,” said Dr. Eugene Rudd, the senior vice president of the Tennessee-based Christian Medical & Dental Associations, which takes a firm stance against abortion.

“But there is a judgment here, both scientific and moral, that says vaccination is part of my obligation — civic and moral — to others.” To protect one another, he said, “that’s an important biblical teaching.”

Rudd’s organization created a Web page for Christians who struggle with the question of whether to vaccinate, and he has written on the matter for the Annals of Pharmacology, explaining how he concludes that vaccination is the moral choice. It is simply a fact that many life-giving breakthroughs in medical history were associated with less than moral practices, he wrote, and that failing to vaccinate can make one complicit in another’s suffering.

“It is relevant that those who accept vaccination for themselves or their children do so without any intention of endorsing abortion,” he further wrote. “The fact that there is a remote association with abortion does not establish moral culpability.”

The Roman Catholic Church, which opposes abortion and endorses vaccination as a general good, advises a similar reasoning process when it comes to vaccines linked — however distantly — to abortions, and the church leaves the decision up to the individual Catholic, said John A. Di Camillo, staff ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia.

This decision-making requires Catholics to affirm the dignity of life and to testify against the destruction of unborn life, he said. And it also requires them to ask other questions. Among them:

  • “What are the details of a particular vaccination?”
  • “Is there an alternative?”
  • “Is the disease being vaccinated against contagious?”

When these questions are answered, he said, accepting vaccines whose origins are linked to abortion “could be morally licit.” A statement from the church’s Pontifical Academy for Life, issued in 2005, affirms that Catholics may use such vaccines and should recognize the moral problems with them.

Karen Ernst, a vaccine advocate who leads Minnesota-based Voices for Vaccines, said there is an argument to be made that vaccines prevent abortion.

Rubella in a pregnant woman, for example, can lead to fetal deformities that might prompt that expectant mother to abort. But a woman vaccinated for rubella is not going to expose a fetus to the illness.

Ernst said that while she “applauds people who are prayerful when they discover there is some connection to abortion,” she fears that those who reject vaccinations based on a dangerous misunderstanding of science are taking advantage of those who hesitate for religious reasons.

“People who are anti-vaccine are people who are very vocally anti-vaccine,” Ernst said. “They want other people to be anti-vaccine, and one way they try to hook people in is to say ‘if you’re pro-life, you should know they are made from aborted fetuses.’”



About the author

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)


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  • Excellent article. It’s good to bring to the fore the various arguments against vaccination and show that each argument does have a good answer.

  • Frank, you are stupid enough to be an anti-vaxxer?

    The argument of it uses “aborted fetal cells” is garbage anyway. You are going to risk the lives of your children and others over cells cultivated 50 years ago? There is “standing on principle” and being stupid. This is clearly stupid.

  • Larry, obviously I’m not Frank, and as you know, I have argued strongly in favor of vaccinations. Reread my post and see that I am doing exactly the same thing now. If an argument “has a good answer,” that logically means I disagree with the argument and hence I support vaccinations.

    Just for curiosity, why would you think I have done a complete about-face on vaccinations when I’ve been arguing strenuously in favor of them all along?

  • So, if somebody stole something from another fifty years ago, and passed it down through the family, then it becomes theirs and they have to obligation to restore it? There may be a statute of limitations in the law, but is there one in religion, in ethics, in philosophy?
    And, ask yourself, why should cells from aborted human fetuses be in a vaccine that supposedly contains only deactivated measles virus? Why should the two even be in the vicinity of each other in a process?
    And, with respect to the “measles epidemic”, among other things, that has not been proved, it consists only of statements by individuals ordering the “rank and file” to believe. Ask yourself, where, really, is the proof that there are people infected? Where was the proof that there was mass production of banned weapons in Iraq? “Ebola” was described as spreading not in keeping with any epidemiological model. That’s because it was a fraud, and deceitful “reports” can say anything!
    More than that, there hasn’t been a single instance connected with the push to vaccinate that doesn’t display connivance.
    The assertion, “Vaccines lead to the death of enemy viruses, ‘therefore’, they can’t hurt you”. Arsenic will kill enemy viruses, too, but it’s not safe to ingest!
    Or the insistence that “vaccines will provide you immunity to viruses”. In fact, it is possible for a vaccine to contain components that work against one virus, but that doesn’t mean it cannot contain components that could be harmful to you! Like spraying bread with poison. It’ll keep you alive, but it will also do you harm.
    Or claiming that Hillary Clinton said “vaccines work”. In fact, she tweeted, “#vaccineswork”. This way, when it’s revea;ed that vaccines are not what they are claimed to be, she can always say she was not attesting to their value, just redirecting people to a place to comment!
    Very similar to the situation two years ago, when USA Today had to rewrite an article on vaccines. They described vaccines as using deactivated viruses, but only indicated heat as the means of deactivating them. In fact, today, vaccines use chemicals powerful and dangerous enough to destroy living tissue. And there is no indication they are removed before vaccines are injected! Apparently,the chemicals are so dangerous, USA Today would be legally liable if they didn’t reveal they exist! Which is why they rewrote the article!
    For all the calculated, one side and, therefore, cravenly misrepresentative verbiage favoring vaccines, there are points to remember for those who think it must be the case that “sci3entists”, “doctors” and the “government” care about people.
    Like what has come to be called “The Monster Study”, in which Wendell John and Mary Tudor flooded orphans with good speech patterns with criticism and claims they were stuttering, ending in a number of them developing poor speech patterns!
    Or Laurette Bender, who conducted “psychological examinations” on children as young as 3, which included declaring them schizophrenic if they didn’t like their skulls squeezed and subjecting them all to electroshock therapy!
    Or “Dr.” W. Paul Havens carrying out a search for a hepatitis cure by, first of all, infecting mental patients at Middletown and Norwich, Connecticut asylums with the disease!
    Or the University of California, in the early Sixties, carrying out a study of infant blood pressure by immersing newborns waist deep in ice water!
    Or a team, including Jonas Salk, testing a flu vaccine by first infecting a group of mental patients at an asylum in Ypsilanti, Michigan!
    Or “Dr.” Hideyo Noguchi, of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research”, injecting 150 people, adults and children, with syphilis, to “study its effects”!
    Or “Dr.” Arthur Wentworth performing unnecessary spinal taps on 29 children at Children’s Hospital, in Boston, Massachusetts, without the consent or even knowledge of the parents, to “see if it would harm them”!
    Or the CIA’s “Operation Midnight Climax”, in which prostitutes lured men to warehouses, then plied them with strong drugs like LSD, to examine the effects the drugs had and to test the efficacy of blackmail procedures!
    Or the “government”, to test biological warfare methodologies, spraying a pneumonia like pathogen over San Francisco from Navy planes!
    Or the “government”, to test biological warfare methodologies, releasing mosquitoes infected with yellow fever and dengue fever in Savannah, Georgia and Avon Park, Florida!
    Or the “government” distributing to 800 pregnant women “vitamin drinks” which were really laced with radioactive iron, resulting in the deaths of a number of the babies and the women getting everything from rashes to tooth loss!
    Remember, only about half the “medical” colleges anymore administer the Hippocratic Oath!
    If someone wants to trust “government” and “doctors” and believe the “measles outbreak” is real and not a New World Order ploy to sicken society and make them dependent slaves, they have only themselves to blame for harm that ensues. Yes, the vaccines being distributed may have components that provide immunity to measles, but there is nothing anyone has even offered to provide to prove they don’t contain components actively dangerous to human health!

  • Julian, if vaccines were as horrible as you say, people would be dropping dead in the street — all around us — from them…..or at the very least, vaccines would be adversely affecting life expectancy and other indices of overall public health.

    In other words, there would be some large-scale, macro, easily discernible effect from them.

    We see nothing of the kind, even though they’ve been administered now for many decades.

    Instead, we see each generation living longer than the prior one, and being healthier at every stage of life.

    Just compare photos of a 40-year-old today and one from 50 years ago. It’s not even close. People even look younger today at every age than in prior generations. Try the same with 50 and 60 and 70-year-olds as well….same thing.

    And today, even people who do everything wrong to their bodies — smoke incessantly, drink like fish, never get exercise, eat all the wrong foods — typically make it through the 70s and even into their early 80s.

    The burden of proof is clearly on those claiming that vaccinations are doing bad things to people.

    As for the abortion issue, I am pro-life and agree with the pro-lifers in the article. I do not see any ethical problem, given the details as described in the piece. As you pointed out, scientists are no more paragons of virtue than any other group of people, and if we were to forego any and all benefits derived from original research that was unethical, I suspect we would have to eliminate many, many therapies that currently help people. In the future, our society must stop worshipping scientists as gods, as they are just as corruptible as any other group of professionals, but that’s a whole other issue.

    As for your examples of government-and-science-induced horrors, that’s a good reason we should have a healthy skepticism about government and powerful people and interests, but the problem is when that healthy skepticism crosses the line to paranoia. That’s where we have to step back and ask what the evidence is of actual harm done across society. Again, if vaccinations were as bad as you say, the evidence would be everywhere — we’d have a country that is demonstrably sicker than decades ago. Again, the opposite is the case.

  • You’re very welcome, Shawnie. And thanks for the compliment. Anything good you see is Him helping me, but I’ve got a long way to go on that score, admittedly so.

  • You accomplished nothing. Julian is still spewing his cut and paste idiocy on other articles. Treating anti-vaxxers like they are rational, reasonable people is a waste of time. They didn’t adopt such views based on being rational or reasonable. They won’t cease using the same methods.

  • Jack,
    You need to do your research before you start bashing someone.
    I recommend starting with this article, and branching out:

    Klove, it really disgusts me that as a spiritual leader you are supporting articles that tout something that you as an organization know nothing about and have no right to set yourselves as an example on how Christians should believe on this topic. For me, vaccines are not a moral issue, but a health issue. Shame on you for not supporting both sides of this topic.

    Don’t just believe the hype that you hear. Read both sides of the story thoroughly before making rash accusations and assumptions. You are not God. You do not know everything that is going on in the world, and you obviously have not read the writings of honest doctors and researchers. I challenge you to inform yourselves.

  • Nothing ventured, nothing gained, Larry.

    Simply hurling insults at anti-vaccination people will gain you nothing besides momentary emotional satisfaction. I’d prefer to gain emotional satisfaction in more productive ways.

  • KTW, the anti-vaccination arguments just don’t fit the real world as all of us experience it.

    Reread my longer post and just look around you.

    Where is the widespread horror? Show me.

    Why are people across the spectrum not becoming more sick rather than less sick?

    This is not to say that someday, there won’t be a scientific consensus that vaccinations may produce unwelcome side effects. But even then, the argument against vaccinations collapses once you look at the demonstrable benefits — ancient diseases virtually wiped out before our eyes, and no evidence of the kinds of unwelcome side effects that are truly massive either in scope or in degree. People aren’t dropping like flies on our streets…..they are living longer and longer and longer, and are healthier than prior generations at every stage in life.

  • It’s all about freedom of moral conscience, which all people have a right to. If our prayer and the leading of the Holy Spirit guides us away from vaccines, after much considered research and reading of medical journals and vaccine pamphlets, not just random googling of “vaccines”, but after reading science in which we have found poor evidence of safety and effectiveness, and much biased research..and after much consideration of the scriptures with respect to the moral issues with vaccines and much prayer, we have felt led to stay away from them, – we have a right to obey our God, who says we are not to have any other gods before Him, which means you- pro vaccine camp, Church leaders, doctors, you are not our gods so should not instruct us how to live our lives or carry out our faith.. At the end of the day, our authority is the Word of God and our conscience. Just because you believe in vaccines doesn’t make it the right and only belief, and you have no right to force your…

  • Oh, and there is no place in the bible where God instructs humans to take vaccines for the greater good, NOWHERE!
    no we don’t have to sacrifice ourselves or our children for any reason (Leviticus 18:21). The sacrifice has already been made – finished! (Isaiah 53:5; John 19:30).