Measles Outbreak: N.Y. Assembly Bans Religious Exemptions for Vaccinations

As members Assembly health committee members entered their meeting on the bill Thursday morning, activists chanted, “Please vote no!” and held handmade placards reading “Protect 1st Amendment: God’s Watching.”

Opponents then crowded into the meeting itself, some carrying newborns and small children. Several opponents cried when the measure passed out of committee.

At the committee hearing, the bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, a Bronx Democrat, argued that California’s actions had helped boost vaccination rates there, and have helped fend off future outbreaks of the measles, which can be fatal in rare cases. “Vaccinations have saved countless millions of lives,” he said.

Later, as opponents of the bill filled the Assembly gallery, several lawmakers described wrestling with a complicated decision, pitting parental prerogative and public health.

Assemblyman Michael Montesano, a Long Island Republican, saw the issue in starker terms, calling it “an attack on people’s First Amendment rights.” He added, “It’s still the individual parent, who is raising this child, that has the fundamental right to decide what happens with their child in all facets of their life.”

Others cast their votes in personal terms. Kenneth Zebrowski, an assemblyman from Rockland County, noted that his county had 266 confirmed cases, with more than a dozen hospitalizations. He also noted his 1-year-old daughter had to accelerate her vaccinations because of the outbreak there.

“Our job is not just to react to epidemics,” Mr. Zebrowski said. “Our job as legislators is to prevent epidemics.”