The Right-to-Cancer movement

Who’s against mandatory HPV vaccination, other than loony libertarians? Why, the “Right-to-Life” folks, of course.

Not long ago, Jane Galt wanted to know why the anti-anti-abortion folks think that their anti-abortion opponents are anti-feminist and hostile to sex. Now Jane wants to know why anyone would oppose mandatory vaccination against the Human Papilloma Virus, a virus associated with cervical cancer.

Since Jane is one of my favorite sort-of-libertarian bloggers, nothing pleases me more than the opportunity to answer her questions: HPV vaccination is controversial largely because much of the “Right-to-Life” movement hates it, just as they hate anything that might make sex less dangerous. The National Pro-Life Action Center thinks it’s a plot by “agents of the culture of death.” The American Life League, “the world’s largest pro-life organization,” proposes that we shut down all Planned Parenthood offices instead. Human Life International calls the HPV vaccine a “chemical condom.” (And of course if you’re “pro-life” you must be anti-condom.)

Now since opposing what’s in effect a cancer vaccine is pretty dumb politically, some of the “pro-life” groups, including the Family Research Center and Focus on the Family, reversed their opposition to FDA approval of the drug: of course, after it had been approved. Now they’re just fighting mandatory vaccination.

To be fair, not all anti-abortion groups oppose HPV vaccination; the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, for example supports it. But (except for a few anti-vaccination fanatics and the usual libertarian suspects) virtually everyone opposed to HPV vaccination comes from the “Right-to-Life” (or, in this case “Right-to-Cancer”) camp.

I’m happy to stop calling the “pro-lifers” anti-sex when they start acting as if they preferred saving lives to preventing sex.

Footnote As Reason Hit & Run admits, the “mandate” in “mandatory vaccination” would in this case be a default setting, not an actual mandate. And of course the “herd immunity” effect makes everyone who isn’t vaccinated a threat to everyone else, especially for a disease where vaccination is imperfect (and which can be spread without sexual contact). But that doesn’t matter; the Reason crew is fully as fanatical as the most extreme “pro-lifers,” so for them avoiding the “stench of corporate welfare” and the “smell of social engineering” is more important than avoiding needless deaths. One thing Jesse Walker doesn’t bother to notice: if the HPV vaccine is given by “opt-in” rather than “opt-out,” parents who “opt-in” wind up more or less expressing the opinion that they expect their daughters to be sexually active, which many of them may be reluctant to do.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: