Unborn Who? Pregnancy Discrimination at COVID Vaccine Sites Signals How Expanded Conscience Rights Prioritize Control, Not Life


Situations of discrimination shaming at vaccination websites present a glimpse right into a future the place reproductive autonomy is curtailed by anti-scientific legal guidelines, private spiritual beliefs and web propaganda.

Military Spc. Angel Laureano holds a vial of the COVID-19 vaccine at Walter Reed Nationwide Navy Medical Heart in Bethesda, Md., on Dec. 14, 2020. (DoD / Lisa Ferdinando)

The pharmacist pulled me apart. He gestured towards my stomach. “Are you certain about this?” I used to be in my third trimester and had lastly determined to be vaccinated in opposition to COVID-19—a call that would solely be referred to as torturous again in January 2021, when pregnant ladies had been newly eligible for the vaccine however had not been included in any of the vaccine research.

Was I certain? For weeks, I’d obsessively researched. My medical doctors confirmed that the vaccine seemed to be protected, and it seemed to be one of the simplest ways to guard myself, my kids and my unborn child. Once you’re pregnant, everybody has an opinion—this was my third being pregnant, and it was removed from the primary time I’d justified a call to a stranger. However now, right here I used to be, very not sure, and really uncovered within the crowded ready room. I thought of leaving.

However after months of fear and worry, I took a deep breath, instructed the pharmacist that I had my physician’s approval, and was eminently relieved when the pharmacist then apologized, explaining that I used to be the primary pregnant girl he’d vaccinated.

It’s been 15 months. I went on to have my child and was relieved to know that he and I had been protected. However over the course of the next months, many pregnant and breastfeeding people weren’t so fortunate. Ladies all through the nation reported exhibiting as much as their vaccine appointments solely to be subjected to off-cuff, discriminatory remedy by professionals offering the vaccine—at the same time as proof mounted that the COVID-19 vaccine was safe and recommended for pregnant ladies, and whereas COVID-19 was proving particularly dangerous in being pregnant, rising the speed of extreme problems together with stillbirth.

Some suppliers singled pregnant ladies out, requiring doctor’s notes; others refused to vaccinate them altogether. Whereas some ladies had been capable of be vaccinated elsewhere, some had been effectively prevented from acquiring the vaccine whereas pregnant. Even many states continued to exclude being pregnant from the listing of high-risk medical circumstances that created vaccine eligibility.

Some suppliers singled pregnant ladies out, requiring physician’s notes; others refused to vaccinate them altogether.

Ostensibly, these obstacles had been erected in an effort to defend in opposition to some unknown future danger. As a civil rights legal professional, I do know firsthand that sexism is usually shrouded within the language of safety. From the classroom to the office and in every single place in between, my shoppers have been instructed that they can not play that sport, try this job, use that rest room, feed that child—all within the title of defending somebody, together with the discrimination sufferer herself.

In 2019, a sweeping regulation promulgated by the Trump administration would have allowed healthcare suppliers to refuse medical remedy primarily based on their spiritual or ethical beliefs. A number of federal courts vacated this rule, stopping it from taking impact; nonetheless, efforts to push “conscience clauses” that may give medical suppliers a large latitude to disclaim healthcare are underway in a number of U.S. states. Simply this month, the American Civil Liberties Union and Equitas Well being filed suit in opposition to the state of Ohio, opposing a brand new legislation that enables medical professionals to refuse to offer care if such remedy would violate their “ethical, moral or spiritual beliefs or ideas.”

Protesters in Orlando, Fla., on Could 14, 2022. (Maureen Johanson / Twitter)

These cases of discrimination shaming at vaccination websites present a glimpse right into a future through which reproductive autonomy is curtailed by anti-scientific legal guidelines, private spiritual beliefs and web propaganda, they usually illuminate the tensions between particular person spiritual rights and affected person well being, security and autonomy.

Because the Supreme Court docket prepares to eradicate the right to abortion and chip away at substantive due process rights more broadly, we can not ignore the parallel—and equally harmful—efforts to develop spiritual freedoms for employers, healthcare suppliers and common residents. Suppliers’ willingness to hazard ladies and their pregnancies primarily based on anti-scientific beliefs illustrates how simply partisan tendencies—as an illustration, the unpopularity of the COVID-19 vaccine—can dominate and warp spiritual and ethical beliefs, and masquerade as spiritual or ethical in nature. As particular person rights to disclaim medical care on spiritual or ethical grounds develop, nobody is protected from discrimination in medical care—not even the “unborn.”

As a civil rights legal professional, I do know firsthand that sexism is usually shrouded within the language of safety.

As organized efforts to guard particular person spiritual rights acquire steam, conscience clauses could possibly be used to disclaim lifesaving healthcare with the thinnest justifications. Whereas conscience clauses have traditionally been linked to abortion providers, the widened scope of conscience clauses would simply hinder the flexibility to entry fundamental healthcare providers—assume: refusals to prescribe or fill prescriptions for contraception, or refusals to simply accept LGBTQ people or single sexually lively ladies as sufferers.

As vaccine denials would point out, prioritizing particular person spiritual rights over affected person well being and autonomy is just not in regards to the integrity of life or defending the “unborn”—the identical pharmacist would possibly refuse to offer contraception in a single occasion, and subsequently lethally hurt a resultant being pregnant by declining to vaccinate a pregnant affected person in opposition to a lethal virus.

Refusing to vaccinate a pregnant girl is harmful—and for now, such discrimination stays unlawful. In 2016, Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act grew to become the primary federal legislation to ban gender-based discrimination, which incorporates discrimination primarily based on being pregnant. The legislation applies to all healthcare entities that obtain federal funds and could possibly be used to fight discrimination in opposition to pregnant ladies, LGBTQ sufferers, victims of sexual harassment and assault, and others who’re handled in a different way as a consequence of their intercourse or gender.

People who face discrimination have a number of avenues for redress—although these have been underutilized because the passage of the legislation in 2016 and had been curtailed by the Supreme Court simply final month when it dominated that plaintiffs bringing sure civil rights claims are usually not entitled to emotional misery damages. Regardless of makes an attempt to pare down Part 1557, people can defend their rights underneath this legislation by submitting an administrative grievance with the U.S. Division of Well being and Human Providers or by pursuing a declare in federal court docket.

Self-advocacy within the face of medical discrimination could appear trivial or futile within the second—significantly given the emotions of shock, disgrace and humiliation that such remedy can engender. Nevertheless, we should always all perceive our proper to be free from gender-based discrimination in medical settings.

Professionals who work with pregnant and breastfeeding ladies ought to be sure that they’re knowledgeable about these rights and that they’ve the instruments to take care of potential obstructions to their care, which is able to improve accountability, stop discrimination, and promote the well being, security and medical autonomy of all pregnant and breastfeeding people.

Sign and share Ms.’s relaunched “We Have Had Abortions” petition—whether or not you your self have had an abortion, or just stand in solidarity with those that have—to let the Supreme Court docket, Congress and the White Home know: We is not going to hand over the suitable to protected, authorized, accessible abortion.

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