‘My Body, My Choice’: How Vaccine Enemies Co-opted the Abortion Rallying Cry

LOS ANGELES – In the shadow of LA’s Art Deco City Hall, musicians jammed the stage, kids painted their faces, and families picnicked in lawn chairs. During the festivities, people waved flags, sold sports T-shirts and buttons – all wrapped in a familiar slogan: “My Body, My Choice.”

It was not an abortion right assembly. It was not a protest against the recent ruling of the US Supreme Court that was disappointing Rowe vs. Wade. It was the “Defeat the Mandates Rally”, an outspoken gathering of anti-vaccine activists in April to protest the Covid-19 guidelines, such as the public transport mask mandate and the need to vaccinate healthcare workers.

Similar scenes have been seen across the country during the epidemic. Armed with the language of the abortion rights movement, anti-vaccine forces have joined forces with right-leaning protesters in protest of the Covid warning.

And they are succeeding. Opponents of the vaccine have coined the slogan “My Body, My Choice,” a slogan that has been inextricably linked to reproductive rights for nearly half a century, to fight masks and vaccine mandates across the country – including in California, where lawmakers pledged to adopt the toughest. Vaccine requirements in the United States

As the anti-vaccine party has achieved success, the abortion rights movement has been hit, turning into the June 24 Supreme Court decision that ended the federal constitutional right to abortion. The ruling leaves it up to the states to decide, and 26 states are expected to ban or severely limit abortion in the coming months.

Now that vaccine opposition groups have claimed “My Body, My Choice”, abortion rights groups are distancing themselves from it – marking a stunning link to the political message.

“It’s a truly intelligent co-option of reproductive rights and the framework for the movement’s movement,” said Lisa Ikemoto, a law professor at the California-Davis Feminist Research Institute. “It reinforces the meaning of choice in the anti-vaccine space and prevents the meaning of that word in place of reproductive rights.”

Formulating the decision to vaccinate privately also obscures its public health outcomes, Ikemoto said, because vaccines are used to protect not just an individual but a community that stops the spread of a disease to those who cannot protect themselves. .

Celenda Lake, a Democratic strategist and Washington, D.C.-based pollster, says “My Body, My Choice” is no longer voting well with Democrats because they associate it with anti-vaccination attitudes.

“What’s really unique about this is that you don’t usually see one side’s base receiving the other side’s base message and succeed,” he said. “That’s what makes it so interesting.”

A close-up photo shows a box of stickers in protest against the vaccine.  The box shows a sticker that says, "My body, my choice."
The phrase “My Body, My Choice” was ubiquitous at the April rally against the Vaccine Mandate in Los Angeles. The slogan began as a catchphrase of the right to abortion but the vaccine has become a favorite of skeptics.(Rachel Bluetooth / KHN)

Jody Hicks, president of Planned Parenthood Affiliates in California, acknowledges that the use of the term abortion has worked against the reproductive rights movement. “Right now, it’s frustrating and frustrating to co-opt that messaging and distract from what we’re doing, and use it to spread misinformation,” Hicks said.

He said the movement was already moving away from the phrase. Even where abortion is legal, she said, some women cannot “pick” one to get one due to financial or other constraints. The movement is now focusing more on access to healthcare, using catchphrase like “ban on our bodies” and “say abortion”.

Vaccination has not always been political, says Jennifer Rich, a professor of sociology at the University of Colorado-Denver, who wrote a book on why parents refuse to vaccinate their children. Opposition to the vaccine grew among parents concerned about the need for a school vaccine in the 1980s. Those parents said they did not have enough information about the potential harmful effects of the vaccine, but it was not biased at the time, Reich said.

The issue exploded in the political scene after at least 140 people fell ill in 2014 and 2015 due to measles outbreaks at Disneyland. When California lawmakers moved to ban parents from demanding a waiver of personal trust for the necessary childhood vaccines, opponents “organized around the notion of medical preference” and “medical freedom.” These opponents broaden the political spectrum, Reich said.

Then El Covid. The Trump administration has politicized the epidemic from the beginning, starting with masks and orders to stay home. Republican leaders and white missionaries applied that tactic to the ground, Reich said, arguing against the vaccine mandate when covid vaccines were still merely theoretical – intimidating people with rhetoric about losing personal preferences and images of vaccine passports.

Despite an obvious inconsistency they gained traction, he said: Often, the same people who oppose the need for a vaccine – arguing that it is a matter of choice – are against the right to abortion.

“What has really changed is that in the last two or more years, it has become extremely biased,” Rich says.

Joshua Coleman leads V is for Vaccines, a group that opposes vaccine orders. He said he strategically placed the phrase depending on which state he was working in.

“In a state or a city that is more life-supportive, they’re not going to connect to that messaging, they don’t believe in full physical autonomy,” Coleman said.

But in places like California, she takes her “My Body, My Choice” speech where she thinks it will work, like the annual Women’s March, where she says she can sometimes get feminists to consider her point of view.

The perception of the word “choice” has changed over time, says Alyssa Wolf, a cognitive linguist based in Oakland, California. The term now paints a picture of an isolated decision that does not affect the larger community, he said. It can make an abortion seeker prefer personal health as self-centered and a vaccine rejecter as an individual, Wolf said.

Outside of linguistics, anti-vaccination activists are playing politics, deliberately trolling abortion rights groups using their words against them, Wolf said. “I really believe there’s a‘ if you ’little bit in it,” Wolf said. “We are going to accept your phrase.”

Tom Bladgett, a retired Spanish-language instructor in Chico, California, wore a “My Body, My Choice” shirt with a picture of a cartoon syringe at the Defeat the Mandates rally in Los Angeles. It was “an ironic thing,” he said, to expose what he sees as Democrats’ hypocrisy that supports both abortion and the vaccine order. Blazett says he is “pro-life” and believes that covid vaccines are not a vaccine but a form of gene therapy, which is not true.

For Blodget, and many other anti-vaccination activists, there is no inconsistency in this position. Abortion is not a personal health decision like taking a shot, they say: it’s just murder.

“Women say they can have an abortion because it’s their body,” Blazette says. “If it’s a legitimate thing for a lot of people, why do I have to take some conjunctival injections?”

A picture shows a crowd of protesters.  A woman holds a sign that reads, "Not for compulsory vaccines.  My body, my choice."
The Covid-19 epidemic and the Trump administration’s response to it have further politicized the long-running controversy over the vaccine. Those who oppose the need for a vaccine often argue that vaccination is a matter of choice.(Rachel Bluetooth / KHN)

About a week later and about 400 miles north of Sacramento, state lawmakers heard Bill’s testimony about abortion and the covid vaccine. The two protests, one against abortion and one against the vaccine order, came together. Trackers of the “People’s Convoy”, a group opposed to the Covid mandate who traveled the country with the message of “medical freedom”, have testified against a bill that would prevent police from investigating abortion as murder. Anti-abortion activists lined up to oppose a bill that would update reporting requirements on the state’s vaccine registry.

“My Body, My Choice” was ubiquitous: police horse pet kids in front of the Capitol wore T-shirts with slogans, and truckers watching them dance swords over their heads.

At the time, two tough legal proposals to make covid vaccine mandatory for schoolgirls and most staff had already been rejected without a vote. A controversial vaccine proposal remains: a bill allowing children 12 years of age or older to receive the covid vaccine without parental consent.

Lawmakers have since scrapped the measure, raising the minimum age to 15, and it is waiting for a crucial vote. They have turned their attention to the latest political quake: abortion.

The story was produced by KHN, which publishes the California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.

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