From Flu Vaccine to Abortion Rights: The Same Argument?

By Shawn Kennedy, MA, RN, AJN interim editor-in-chief

bv alvi2407/via flickr

bv alvi2047/via flickr

There’ve been articles, blog posts, a court ruling in New York State halting mandatory H1N1 vaccinations for health care workers, and last week a suspension of the mandatory vaccinations by Governor Paterson (who explained the decision in terms of the vaccine shortage). Earlier this month, we ran a poll on this site related to whether or not nurses and other health care workers who work as direct caregivers should be mandated to receive the flu vaccine.  In reading the poll results, I notice that many of the arguments against mandatory vaccination focus on the right to decide about one’s own body—a powerful argument, indeed.

It did make me wonder: do those who stand by this reason for not getting an H1N1 vaccination shot (or nasal mist) recognize that this argument—that one has a right to determine what happens to one’s body—is the same argument used by women who want to choose whether to have a baby or not? At the very least there’s an interesting parallel, even if some people I’ve pointed this out to don’t seem to agree. I’d like to know if others feel there is a difference—and if so, what?

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2016-11-21T13:21:29+00:00 October 26th, 2009|Nursing|8 Comments

About the Author:

Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. paranoid in paradise February 18, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    Having had my heart and soul broken by the governmental agencies that are supposed to protect us, I feel this is an issue of constitutional rights more so than anything else. The CDC has not been forthwith with real evidence to the subject, and as a result, there is widening skepticism about how badly an emergency this is. Unfortunately, because our governmental is used by now to lie to us on a regular basis, people like me will take a chance that it is a lie, or at the very least an exaggeration of the facts, as I suspect the issue of vaccinations is. I feel it is immoral to haphazardly vaccinate a country and then give complete immunity to the manufacturer of the vaccine. What this tells me is that it is a money making venture and some government gumshoe in a lab coat (or a plain coat, as it is usually the case) is pocketing some nice cash thanks to the scare tactics. No, thanks, I will let Nature take its course, and if it is my timer to die, then so be it.

  2. Kristi November 20, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    The right to make choices directly concerning one’s own body (cells containing my unique DNA), as in the case of a vaccine, is fundamentally different than the right to make choices directly concerning another’s body (cells containing someone else’s unique DNA), as in the case of an abortion. While the abortion choice certainly will affect a woman’s own body too, we can’t pretend it stops there.

  3. Jackie November 9, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    Somewhere in this I really miss the reason for someone NOT taking the flu vaccination, and this becoming such a big issue. Our society has become OVERLY sensitive to every potential infringement to our rights.

  4. […] Comments jparadisirn on From Flu Vaccine to Abortion Rights: The Same Argument?jm on From Flu Vaccine to Abortion Rights: The Same Argument?torontoemerg on From Flu Vaccine […]

  5. jparadisirn October 27, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    I stood in line and took the H1N1 vaccine.

    I didn’t do it out of guilt, or because of media induced panic. When it came down to it, I did it because of a child I love, and for a close family member who is pregnant. That’s all. I don’t want to catch the virus at work, and give it to either of these people. So far, my arm hasn’t fallen off or anything.

    I respect every health care worker’s right to make their own decision about the vaccine. Of course, all kinds of parallels can be drawn from this issue, including the rights of smokers to smoke, the right to drink soda without taxation, the right to drive without a seat belt, be overweight, or ride a bicycle without a helmet.

    One characteristic of effective conflict resolution between two parties is to stay issue focused. Otherwise, indeed, “slippery-slope” thinking occurs. A health care worker may not want the H1N1 vaccination, but be pro-life. One doesn’t necessarily support the other.

    I agree, the arguments are similar, but one issue at a time, please.

  6. jm October 27, 2009 at 11:59 am

    This article at KevinMD points out a related irony. “Both the far left and right agree not to receive vaccine.”

  7. torontoemerg October 26, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    You just like causing trouble, don’t you. 🙂 I actually tend to agree with you. I can see the argument from the other side might be that they are completely different, but in the end, I think, it still comes down to personal autonomy and the state’s right to interfere with that autonomy. Those who see a difference between the cases might argue that in the case of therapeutic abortion, an exception must be made by the state to interfere with personal autonomy to protect the fetus, who effectively has no voice; if this claim is made on the basis of a public good (such as public morality, or increasing the population, for example)it then becomes a slippery slope, doesn’t it? The state then can make the argument that any interference with autonomy is justifiable so long as it fulfils some public good. Flu vaccination and attempts to constrain therapeutic abortion then aren’t that far apart.

Comments are moderated before approval, but always welcome.