I’ve kept this issue confined to subscriber-only blog posts because it’s a legislative issue and I felt that the debate has been so distasteful, but now that the mainstream press has picked up on it, we might as well get it out in the open here.
Legislation to vaccinate pre-teen girls against a sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer has sparked a heated debate at the Illinois Statehouse.
The discussion has even moved to the point where one opponent of the legislation has publicly called on a sponsor to reveal her sexual history.
At issue is the human papillomavirus, or HPV, the primary cause of cervical cancer in females. A new vaccine, Gardasil, has been shown to protect against HPV strains that cause 70 percent of the cancer cases. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has recommended vaccinations for 11- and 12-year-old girls - before they are likely to become sexually active.
An Illinois House bill would require girls to be vaccinated before they enter sixth grade beginning in 2008-09 unless their parents formally opt out. A similar Senate bill would have schools provide information about HPV and cervical cancer to 11- and 12-year-old girls beginning this fall and then would require immunizations - again, unless parents decide against them - in 2009.
As the New York Times notes, the manufacture of the vaccine, Merck, is making a national state-by-state push to require the shots, adding…
And in Illinois, a bill introduced by a legislator who had the virus the vaccine is intended to prevent prompted a conservative groupâ€™s blog to speculate that she had been promiscuous.
â€œIâ€™m offended by their ignorance, but if I have to take a hit to educate people, Iâ€™m willing to do it,â€ said the billâ€™s sponsor, Debbie Halvorson, the Democratic majority leader in the Illinois Senate.
Ms. Halvorson is also a director of Women in Government, a national association of state legislators that has embraced the fight against cervical cancer and has received funding from Merck. The group has posted model mandatory vaccination legislation on its Web site, www.womeningovernment.org. The rush for mandatory inoculation â€” most of the state proposals have been introduced since the beginning of the year â€” is unusual. It was only last June that federal regulators approved the vaccine, called Gardasil.
Jill Stanek has taken the lead among the conservative Right in opposing the bill. One of her first posts on the legislation was a doozy…
…So when state Sen. Debbie Halvorson admitted she had HPV and worried others might get it, you would think she’d focus on her behavior that caused her to contract that sexually transmitted disease.
Halvorson would be most helpful by discussing the health consequences of pre- or extra-marital sex. […]
But no, Halvorson does not advocate avoiding a risky behavior that leads not only to HPV but to 20+ other STDs and their strains, along with unplanned pregnancy. Halvorson merely advocates trying to avoid the consequences of risky behavior. Shame on her.
I left out some very pointed, very personal even weird “questions” that Stanek demanded answers for. Read it yourself if you want.
Stanek’s reaction has overshadowed the legislation itself. Here’s a recent column from Kristen McQueary, who notes that she would oppose the Halvorson bill if she were in the General Assembly…
For someone with a well-worn barometer for political mean-spiritedness, I was stunned by an online diatribe hurled at state Sen. Debbie Halvorson (D-Crete) from a fellow Southlander. […]
Stanek demanded that Halvorson disclose “whether it was her husband who passed HPV on to her after sleeping with other women” or how, exactly, the Senate majority leader believes she contracted the virus. […]
Stanek’s vitriol does nothing to further her cause. In fact, her shark mentality often hurts the very issues for which she so desperately crusades. Even those in her small circle of flag-wavers cringed at her remarks.
I’ve always liked Jill, but her remarks crossed the line of decency and could backfire. The legislation could pass just because of the tactics used against it. This slash and burn stuff might work in the national media (although its influence seems to be fading fast), but people here are a bit more reasonable than the DC gasbags.
Anyway, discuss below.