The annals of “I’m not antivaccine,” part 27: Vaccine mandates as “medical rape” (again)

After you’ve been blogging for over 14 years, more or less continuously (as I have), there are certain topics you end up covering again and again and again and again. This is particularly true if one of your major topics during that time hasn’t changed. In my case, that major topic that I’ve been writing about regularly is antivaccine misinformation and the antivaccine movement, and there are a number of topics that I’ve covered more times than I can remember. Examples include the toxins gambit, bad science, “Dr. Bob” Sears, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., nonsense about aluminum adjuvants, chelation therapy, bogus science claiming that mercury in vaccines causes autism, and so many more. Of course, the problem with this is that there are only so many variations of nonsense that antivaxers can come up with before it becomes repetitive. On the other hand, I realize that newer bloggers might not have seen my earlier discussions of these topics, and, although the posts are still there, it is unreasonable to expect all but the most hardcore Orac fan to dive into the Respectful Insolence archives and see what I’ve said in the past about these topics. So it’s worthwhile to revisit these topics from time to time and hope that I can do it in a manner that doesn’t bore longtime readers. This brings me a particularly vile post on that wretched hive of scum and antivaccine quackery, Age of Autism. Yes, sadly, we’re dealing with the “vaccinations as rape” trope, or, more specifically, the “vaccine mandates as rape” trope.

Yes, there’s a reason there have been 26 entries in this series thus far, making this the 27th, and this particular trope is once of them.

So let’s go to the AoA post, #UsToo Open Letter to Washington State Legislators About SB5841 Removal of Vaccine Exemptions. It gets vile right from the start:

I’m writing to ask you to vote NO on SB5841, the bill which seeks to remove philosophical exemptions for vaccinations.

In this day and age where everyone is hyper-aware of bullying, rape culture, the #metoo movement, and obtaining consent from both parties, I cannot believe that there are people who would try to force vaccinations on those who don’t want them. In my mind, this equates to medical rape. All the elements are there.

Rape: Rape is when someone uses force to penetrate another against their will. The force can be physical, coercion or abuse of authority. If SB5841 passes, many of us will be saying NO, we will try to get away from our assailant, but because of abuse of authority and coercion we will be medically penetrated anyway.

SB 5481 is a bill similar to SB 277, the California law that banned nonmedical exemptions to school vaccine mandates. it doesn’t go as far as SB 277 in that it wouldn’t eliminate religious exemptions. Even so, antivaxers have reacted to SB 5821 as emotionally and vociferously as they did to SB 277 back in 2015, which was no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention to the antivaccine movement over the last several years.

The claim that vaccine mandates are the medical equivalent of rape is not a new antivaccine trope, either. I remember that I first wrote about this analogy in detail four and a half years ago in response to a post on VaxTruth by Marcella Piper-Terry entitled Coerced Vaccination and the Medical Rapist, which I deconstructed in my usual manner. Interestingly enough, I can’t help but zero in on a sentence from the original version of Piper-Terry’s post that read:

Vaccination of our children is in many ways similar to medical rape.

It now reads:

Coerced or forced vaccination of our children is in many ways similar to medical rape. (I have edited this statement, which originally did not contain the modifiers “coerced” or “forced.”)

Having read enough of these posts over the years, I’d say that the original more accurately represents the opinion of antivaxers who use the “vaccination as rape” analogy. Piper-Terry only changed it because she was so bald-faced in her analogy that even some antivaxers cringed. Basically, the whole thesis of her post was that a medical procedure designed to protect children against diseases that cause significant mortality and morbidity is a violation, an assault akin to sexual assault, and the relationship between parents and pediatricians is an abusive relationship. She even carried the analogy further, talking about how the “rapist”-pediatrician will say “It was consensual. After-all, you came here asking for it. What did you expect?” and how the parent, like a rape victim, is retraumatized every time she encounters the rapist in public.

This AoA “letter” that it’s urging Washington residents to personalize and send ot their legislators is basically the same vile analogy, updated in light of the #metoo movement, which hadn’t yet occurred in 2014. Here’s what I mean:

No Means No: We teach our daughters to say NO, because unlike phrases like “not right now” or “I’d rather not,” the word NO cannot be misconstrued as being anything other than what it is. Taking away our right to philosophical exemptions is the same as taking away our ability to say NO. It’s as simple as that. Can you imagine a sexual assault situation where someone is repeatedly screaming NO, but it doesn’t matter because their mouth has been taped shut? Passing SB5841 is taping our mouths shut.

To co-opt the #metoo movement in service of antivaccine pseudoscience completely, the author of even named this an “#UsToo open letter.” This is, of course, a particularly vile strategy beloved of antivaxers, namely to claim victimhood and then liken themselves to persecuted people. For instance, besides rape, a favorite analogy applied to vaccine mandates is to liken it to the Holocaust or Nazi eugenics and medical experimentation. It’s so common that even Dr. Bob Sears does it.

Next up, here’s perhaps the single dumbest statement I’ve ever seen on AoA, and that’s saying a lot. No, seriously. I warn you: Shield your neurons:

Catcalling: SB5841 has been one giant catcall. I’m walking down the street minding my own business, and SB5841 is gyrating its hips at me, whistling and telling me all the things it’s going to do to me and my family. It’s going to molest us, puncture us, and inject us with fluid. Not once, not twice, but 72 times, and we’re going to like it! It’s going to be sooo good!

Do you feel stupider after reading that? Do you feel dirty for having read it? I sure did. I’m sorry if I’ve subjected you to the same, but it’s necessary. This is the way a lot of antivaxers think. You can’t understand the antivaccine movement until you understand this, Personally, I’m concerned about whoever wrote this and this person’s fixation on the needle and “injecting with fluid.”

Of course, this letter echoes exactly the same theme that Marcella Piper-Terry did in her “vaccine as rape” screed from 2014, namely the “blaming the victim” analogy:

Blaming the victims: Most of the people speaking out against vaccines have first-hand experience of being vaccine injured. My sons lost eye contact, executive function, and coordination skills. One son had paralysis in his leg after a vaccine and a red hard bump the size of a baseball at the injection site. This happened not once, but twice. At the time we believed the doctor when she said it was a normal reaction. All of our children suffered injuries and acquired autoimmune issues after vaccines that required years of therapy and interventions. Many others have suffered even greater damage: encephalopathy, autism, seizures and even death. When people like me speak up to warn that vaccines, like any other drugs, have side effects (just look at the vaccine inserts!), we are labeled “ANTI-VAXXERS,” “ANTI-SCIENCE,” and “DISEASE SPREADERS.” Somehow, we have been made to look like the bad guys. We are not anti-vaxxers. We are ex-vaxxers who were once pro-vaxxers. Vaccines are no longer a good fit for us and we have stopped. That is all. No need to blame us or call us names. We didn’t ask for this.

I’ve noticed a new theme arising in the antivaccine crankosphere. It used to be, “I’m not ‘antivaccine’; I’m pro-safe vaccine,” or “I’m not ‘antivaccine’; I’m a vaccine safety advocate.” Lately, antivaxers have adopted a new “I’m not antivaccine’ talking point, and that’s to say that they are “not antivaxers” but rather “ex-vaxers.” The idea is that they used to be fervently pro-vaccine and would still be, were it not for the horrific injury their children suffered from vaccines. It’s not entirely inaccurate, at least when it comes to the loudest antivaxers, the ones who are on social medial decrying vaccines or blogging for AoA. Many of them have special needs children, usually with autism, and blame vaccines for their children’s status. However, you’ll excuse me if I doubt that these parents were ever really fervent “pro-vaxers.” More likely they did what most parents do, which is to follow their pediatrician’s recommendations. Of course, the vast majority of the “injuries” that antivaxers blame on vaccines are not caused by vaccines; e.g., autism, autoimmune disease, sudden infant death syndrome, diabetes, and more. These “ex-vaxers” became ex-vaxers because they turned antivaccine because they mistakenly blamed their child’s autism or other developmental disorder or other medical condition on vaccines.

Worse, some of them became the sort of antivaxers who routinely liken school vaccine mandates to rape.

Of course, inevitably, the “vaccine as rape”-variety antivaxers have to find a way to carry this offensive analogy even farther:

Silencing the victims: A few weeks ago approximately 2,000 parents drove to Olympia braving the threat of a snow storm to represent and be heard for the HB1638 hearing. None were given an opportunity to testify. During the press conference that followed, only legislators in favor of HB1638 were in attendance and answering questions. None of the parents of vaccine injured children were allowed in to the press conference. Those are examples of passive silencing. Others, however, don’t even try to hide that they’re silencing or censoring us. It’s insidious how Adam Schiff (who wrote Mark Zuckerberg a letter telling him to shut down vaccine websites), Peter Hotez (who wants to censor books and social media ), Richard Pan (who wants to pass legislation penalizing “speech criminals” online including personal texts and emails) and others who are pushing pro-pharma legislation in this country make no secret about wanting to silence those who stray from the party line that “VACCINES ARE SAFE AND EFFECTIVE, HAVE NO SIDE-EFFECTS AND A FULLY VACCINATED NATION IS A HEALTHY NATION.” Many of us believed that, had our children vaccinated, suffered through the side-effects, and now focus daily on their diminished health. Are we not allowed to tell our stories? Are we not allowed to warn others? Are we now second-class citizens who don’t even deserve the right to free speech? We try to speak up, but we are silenced. Those who push for vaccine mandates would have it so much easier if the victims of vaccine injury would keep their mouths shut and go away. It’s similar to when people don’t want to hear the stories from rape victims because they want to protect the star quarterback.

First of all, wherever antivaxers appear to speak, they turn the proceedings farcicle with their mixture of self-righteousness, anger, and pseudoscience. Also notice how the examples chosen have been cherry picked. Not mentioned are the numerous times when antivaxers were given free rein to express their opinions. The most recent example was a mere two weeks ago, when antivaxers inundated the CDC Advisory Panel on Immunization Practices (ACIP) public comment period. Only two pro-vaccine advocates spoke and were overwhelmed by antivaxer after antivaxer coming up to the microphone and recounting anecdotes, spewing pseudoscience, and even going full religious wingnut. As for the question of antivaccine misinformation on social media, it’s a complicated question, but it is very, very clear that social media and streaming platforms have become antivaxers’ most powerful tools for spreading their message, to the detriment of public health, just as they’ve become incredibly powerful tools for spreading conspiracy theories (and, let’s face it, antivaccine pseudoscience is just a particularly harmful variety of conspiracy theories). Something had to give. Also, private companies have a right to decide what they will and will not host on their services, and antivaxers can still get their message out by any number of other means.

Particularly offensive is the likening of efforts to limit the ease with which antivaxers can spread their message to how rape victims are “silenced” because “people don’t want to hear the stories from rape victims” and “want to protect the star quarterback.” What are vaccines in this analogy? The star quarterback who is a rapist? The doctors giving them? The lawmakers mandating them as a requirement to enroll in school? All of them? Or someone else? I’m so confused, albeit not as confused as whoever wrote this neuron-apoptosing black hole of offensive idiocy, someone who thinks this is a coherent argument:

Is this the kind of culture we are trying to create here in America–medical rape culture? Where instead of “boys will be boys” we say, “Pharma will be Pharma.” Instead of listening to victims, we trivialize their experiences, accuse them of making up stories, paint them as crazy and tell them to shut up and go away. Instead of seeking justice for those who have been harmed, we join in with the bullies, laugh at them and try to drag them through the mud again. Instead of believing that no means no, we say “your no means nothing and we’ll have our way with you regardless of what you say.” Instead of respecting personal space, we say “we’ll come at you because we’re bigger than you and we can take away your privileges to get you to do what we want you to do.” Is this REALLY the kind of country we want to live in?

Here’s the thing. Doctors and scientists have listened to the parents. They’ve listened to the parents to the point that they’ve done study after study after study trying to determine whether vaccination is correlated with autism or any of the other conditions that antivaxers blame on vaccines. The answer in well-designed, large (and expensive) epidemiological studies has always been no. Indeed, yet another large epidemiological study exonerated the MMR vaccine as being associated with autism. It’s never enough, and scientists keep listening to the parents to the point that they keep doing studies like this, even though they do nothing more than confirm what we already know: Vaccines do not cause autism. The problem is that if you don’t agree with them, if you criticize thee harmful pseudoscience they’re peddling, antivaxers view you as “not listening to them.”

They also invoke the fallacy of future vindication combined with the fallacy of future punishment of the evildoers:

If there is anything we’ve learned from the Me Too movement, it is that people in our society are not like they were 10 or 15 years ago. Times have changed. We’re no longer willing to look the other way when sexual predators in positions of power abuse that power by having their way with those who are weaker. In 10 to 15 years when more and more people realize that the documented side effects of the vaccines are in fact impacting many of our children (similar to what Thalidomide did to babies in the 50’s and 60’s), and it comes to light that legislators who knew about the side effects went ahead and steamrolled bills forcing vaccinations on everyone, including the most vulnerable members of our population, there is going to be a huge backlash. When this happens, do you want to be viewed as the Harvey Weinstein of the Mandated Vaccine Debacle? Choose the right side of history and stand for choice. Stand for freedom.

Harvey Weinstein? Really? I also can’t help but note that the FDA actually prevented the thalidomide debacle from occurring in the US by refusing to approve it for use here. In any event, I like to refer to the claim by cranks that at some future date their viewpoint will be vindicated as the fallacy of future vindication. As for the idea that those who oppose antivaxers will suffer some sort of righteously applied penalty sometime after that future vindication, this, too, is a common theme in antivaccine rants, as is the theme that there is a “witch hunt” directed at the parents of unvaccinated children.

The analogies that antivaxers like to use to describe vaccination and vaccine mandates are very telling, particularly when they claim not to be “antivaccine.” In these analogies, they are unjustly persecuted victims of horrific persecution or crimes. To them, vaccination is the crime, and they are victims. The protestations of antivaxers denying that they are antivaccine notwithstanding, likening vaccines to medical experimentation without informed consent, as some antivaxers do, is antivaccine. Likening vaccine mandates to the Holocaust (with one mother even going so far as to make a vaccine-themed “Star of David” based on the ones Jews were forced to wear during the Nazi regime to identify themselves as the underclass, as people without rights, is antivaccine—and offensively so. Without a doubt, likening vaccine mandates to rape is antivaccine, and perhaps in the most offensive manner of any of the many brain dead analogies that antivaxers use to demonize vaccines. It’s an analogy that trivializes the crime of rape and its victims by comparing the act of protecting a child from dangerous diseases as sexual violence.