Abortion and the Vaccine Controversy

© 1996, 2000 Ellen Kramer
        We have received reports from both Human Life International (HLI) and Vaccine Policy Institute that the rubella portion of the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella) is made from cell strain taken from an aborted baby. Since documentation of at least one MMR is required "upon entry to school" in Pennsylvania, we see this as an issue of particular interest to Catholic homeschoolers.

        The cell strain for the current vaccine was taken from a baby who was aborted sometime in the 1960's (which was prior to the legalization of abortion). The mother had contracted rubella sometime during her pregnancy. According to heavily-footnoted reports from both HLI and the Vaccine Policy Institute, this was the 27th baby whose remains the vaccine manufacturer "violated" to acquire the cell strain for this vaccine. The "useful life" of this same cell strain "has not yet expired," and to our knowledge, no alternative is currently available.

        To be certain that you would have the most reliable information on this matter we contacted numerous priests, doctors, organizations and State Department of Health for further information.

        The Pope John Center for the Study of Ethics in Health Care advises the Catholic Bishops in America on medical ethics issues. Father Germain Kopaczynski, OFM Conv., of the Center told us that if any alternative (a vaccine not using a cell strain from an induced abortion) were readily available, "parents would have a moral obligation to use the alternate."

        According to various published reports, the bioethics committee of the British Catholic Bishops' conference addressed the matter for the parents of children in an Ampleforth, England, Catholic prep school. The parents refused to participate in the government vaccination program because of the origin of the vaccine cell strains. The British Bishops stated that "there is considerable separation between the abortion act and would the current production of the vaccine...As long as there is no support for abortion, then it would be morally acceptable for individuals to use the vaccine."

        The below information was received by us in a letter from Father Germain Kopaczynski, OFM Conv., Director of Education at the Pope John Center. He states:

"Basing myself on the accuracy on the HLI report, it would seem that the British Catholic Bishops are correct in noting that there is a 'considerable separation between the abortion act and the current production of the vaccine.' I would understand this to mean that there is no question of any sort of formula cooperation, if any, amounts to nothing more than remote cooperation, that is to say, one not essential to the abortion, contingent rather than necessary. Since this does seem to be the case... '[as] long as there is no support for abortion, then it would be morally acceptable for individuals to use the vaccine.'"

        Additionally, the British Catholic Media Office reported that "Catholic teaching would oppose the development of new vaccines, therapies, and studies from aborted fetal tissue. Catholic teaching is clear that we may never do harm so that good may come of it." However, the Vaccine Policy Institute has reported that the new chicken pox vaccine "was cultured in lung tissue obtained from two surgically aborted human fetuses, which many parents find abhorrent." In the case of both vaccines, the manufacturer claims that a miscarried baby (spontaneous abortion) could not be used due to possible chromosomal abnormalities. The sources of polio, haemophilus B, pertussis, and tetanus are bacterial cultures. The mumps portion of the portion of MMR is from a chick embryo cell.

        An article in the February, 1996 issue of The Catholic World Report included an interview by Richard Doerflinger of the US bishops' secretariat for pro-life activities. Mr. Doerflinger stated that parents could "reasonably judge that...any consent of theirs to vaccination [with these two vaccines] may be a source of scandal...Hence it would appear that the only prudent course of action is to refuse the vaccination...[as a] moral witness, but it's not something you could demand of people." However, in a recent phone call, Father Germain stated the Center's concern for the health of the children.

        Both the rubella cell strains and the chicken pox vaccine are produced by Merck & Co. Whether you boycott two vaccines or not, you may wish to 1) write to them at Merck & Co., West Point, PA 19486; 2) ask that they develop alternative methods of culturing these vaccines immediately and destroy the old ones; and, 3) include the request that they no longer abuse the dead bodies of aborted babies in the development of future vaccines or any other product. If you feel led to boycott Merck further, we suggest that you read labels and consult your pharmacist for information regarding other Merck products. Please share this information with Catholic and pro-life doctors and pharmacists.

        For many years we have been aware of the philosophies both for and against immunizations. The fact that aborted babies have been used at all in the production of these vaccines makes it that much more difficult and controversial. Understanding the sensitivity of the matter existed prior to the news, it could be very easy for tension to increase among Catholics and within the homeschool community on this matter. We ask, therefore, that you please respect the judgment of other parents as they discern how God is directing them to respond to this most difficult matter.

        Pennsylvania law requires the following immunizations upon entry to school: 3 polio, 3 diphtheria, 3 tetanus; and 1 each of measles, mumps, and rubella. However, the immunizations recommended by the State Department of Health are: 5 DPTs, 4 polios, 2 MMRs, 4 haemophilus B, and 3 hepatitis b. If these are completed by school entry, there are no immunizations required or recommended during the remaining school years.

        An exemption can be given if there is 1) a letter from your doctor stating a medical exemption to any particular or all immunizations, or 2) a letter from the parents to the public school superintendent stating that they object to any or all immunizations on the basis of "religious grounds, or on the basis of a strong moral or ethical conviction similar to a religious belief." Either document should accompany your affidavit at the beginning of the school year along with or in place of your record of immunizations. For more information on this matter, contact the Department of Health directly at (800) 692-7254.

        Upon reviewing this article prior to printing, Father Germain of the Pope John Center wrote us, "What you have written...looks to me to be a good summary of the controversy. I think you do a good job in covering all the bases." We thank the Pope John Center and Father Germain for his time and expertise on this matter!

For more detailed information and verifying references on this article, contact:

Kristine M. Severyn R.Ph., Ph.D., Director
Vaccine Policy Institute
251 West Ridgeway Drive
Dayton, OH 45459
(937) 435-4750

You might also like to request the following publication:

"Parents Guide--Pennsylvania School Immunization Law"
PA Department of Health
Division of Communicable Disease Prevention
Immunization Program
P.O. Box 90
Harrisburg, PA 17108
(800) 692-7254

Please note: This network believes that each parent is given the graces from God to determine what is the best form of medical treatment for each of their children. This includes disease prevention and treatment methods and decisions regarding those matters.


In March of 1996, legislation was passed which states: "The Secretary of Health shall cause hepatitis B to be placed on the list of diseases that require immunization for entry into school after August 1, 1997, consistent with the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States Department of Health and Human Services." See New Immunization Requirements for information on the hepatitis B vaccine and the requirement for an additional MMR and Tetanus/Diphtheria. This affects all kindergarteners beginning with the class of 1997-1998 school year and each kindergarten class after them. Additional specifics are included in the above-mentioned article.

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This page was updated on January 26, 2001.